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Why Big Names Are Banding Together for the Children of Minis Island

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Why Big Names Are Banding Together for the Children of Minis Island

The link between education and peace.

Experts believe that education and peace go hand in hand.
Two years ago, at a place called Minis Island, Sulu, children were learning how to read and write using a piece of wood punctured by bullets.

They did this in a makeshift shelter of leaves and discarded wood, grouped as kids would be in more privileged classrooms if not for the ongoing pandemic that drives people apart. Their teachers, meanwhile, were men in uniform; soldiers of the Philippine Army deployed there for a different reason. And while there are a lot of things that can be seen in this place—in this remote island 12 kilometers away from the Sulu capital of Jolo—this was among the sights most telling of both its past as well as its future.

In a video the soldiers of Minis sent to this publication, it was said that the island used to be the base of operations for the Abu Sayyaf, a Jihadist militant group that terrorized and oppressed its residents. The army, tipped off by the locals, arrived there in 2018 to drive them away. Following a violent confrontation that could be heard from nearby shores, they succeeded. The army managed to thwart the terrorist and set up camp there to prevent them from returning. During their stay in the island, however, they came to realize that its residents lacked access to basic necessities. And for the children of Minis, these included proper education.

“This is why they decided to gather them to be taught,” the narrator of the video said in Filipino. “They built a small hut so they can have a place to teach them in.” They also used various materials including the aforementioned piece of wood to help the children better understand the use of numbers and the alphabet.

To Colonel Diosdado Carlos D. Pambid, one of the men stationed in the island, this was not the most ideal set up for learning. But he also thought that it was a step in the right direction. He did so under the belief that education promotes peace.

He isn’t alone in thinking this.

The children of Minis Island in their new school.

T hroughout history, numerous thought leaders have tried to outline the connection between education and peace. Confucius for one had to say about it: “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” Furthermore, education—because of its capacity to improve one’s employability and skill set—has been touted by various experts as a tool to eliminate poverty. This in turn can theoretically lessen incidents of criminal behavior done due to economic difficulties.

In recent years, however, various studies and organizations have tried to find deeper links between education and peace. Among them is the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR.) Through its policy portal, VoxEU.org, the group cited studies suggesting that criminality among youths can be lessened through compulsory school leaving (CSL) laws.

For those unfamiliar, CSL laws determine the age by which a person is no longer legally bound to attend school. According to CEPR, increases to the CSL in certain areas have shown a decrease in the arrest rates of their teenagers.

The group had this to say about the subject: “By keeping teenagers in school during a key period of criminal activity—crime rates peak at age 18—CSL laws can prevent the exposure of some individuals to crime and ensure that they never proceed down the wrong track.”

Education, however, may do more than lessen the occurrence of small-scale crimes. In the past, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that it can also be used to sway people away from affiliations that can inflict harm on a massive degree. For instance: violent extremism. The group concluded this in a study published back in 2018.

 “Relevant education of quality can help to create conditions that make it difficult for violent extremist ideas to proliferate,” the study said. It added that this can be accomplished by “addressing the causes of violent extremism and fostering resilient learners able to find constructive and non-violent solutions to life challenges.”

This is especially relevant to disadvantaged youths like the ones in Minis Island. Prior to their migration, these children and their families were living in the nearby island of Tulayan. And, according to the video made by the soldiers, Tulayan was a place of violent clan wars and dangerous political rivalries. The current residents of Minis left it to live more peaceful lives but it turned out that the place they transferred to was also unsafe.

In summary, not only do these children lack access to proper education and its benefits, they’ve also been exposed to ways of life that can normalize violence and terror—elements that could negatively affect their upbringing. Such circumstances, after all, could lead them to feel vulnerable, abandoned, frustrated and disenfranchised. And according to a study done by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC,) that could make them recruitment targets for extremists.

 “Children who feel disenfranchised and without any real opportunities to achieve social success and those who may be searching for answers to the meaning of life may in their personal search for identity be attracted by violent extremist groups.” This, at least, is what UNODC theorized.

Adding to this, UNESCO stated that no one is born a violent extremist. “They are made and fueled,” the group said. “Disarming the process of radicalization must begin with human rights and the rule of law, with dialogue across all boundary lines, by empowering all young women and men, and by starting as early as possible, on the benches of schools.”

And this is what the soldiers of Minis Island believe they are doing. They are empowering the children simply by teaching them how to read and write.

“You can see in their eyes the desire to learn,” said Col. Pambid. “They have dreams. And you can see in them the desire to fulfill those dreams.” Education, he believes, can give them the tools they need to fulfill their desires.

Musika’t Aklat,” a benefit concert for the children of Minis.
A fter he became aware of the situation in Minis, Col. Pambid began actively supporting the initiative of his fellow soldiers to educate the kids.

He assessed the situation and reached out to various agencies to help improve the learning facilities on the island. Due to financial constraints, the Department of Education (DepED)—while interested in aiding the children—claimed that they do not have enough financial capacity to build a school, especially one that will only service the children of about 20 families. This is where the private sector came in. The Rotary Club of Manila Premier stepped up to the plate to provide monetary donations to the project.

After Col. Pambid was transferred, his push for the initiative was continued by Lieutenant Colonel Rafael P. Caido. Eventually, an actual school was built on the island, one made of stone and other sturdy materials. This, however, wasn’t the end of the project.

At the moment, DepED is eyeing to deploy professional teachers to Minis. However, they cannot do so without proper accommodations for them. This is what the Rotary Club of Fort Bonifacio Global City aims to provide.

This year, this group is planning to raise more money for the children of the island. Their current president Jan Emil Langomez said that they have taken note of the work done by their fellow Rotarians and have therefore decided to support them through an online fundraising concert called “Musika’t Aklat.”

“While local authorities have been supportive, their resources nonetheless remain limited,” Langomez said. “This is where our club comes in to partner with the people to expand their existing infrastructure.”

Tentatively set to happen in October, “Musika’t Aklat” is a three-night virtual concert that will feature a mix of big names and promising talents. It is set to stream live on Facebook from Makati’s Social House. The first date will be a “Solo Night” featuring OPM veterans like Ebe Dancel and Barbie Almalbis. It will also include Sud Ballecer, Clara Benin, Waiian and Tamara. The second date is dubbed “Alternative Night” and it will feature Mojofly, Tanya Markova, Rouge, Bita and the Botflies and Createurs. The final night is dubbed “Pinoy Rock Night” and it will include performances from Razorback, The Republicats, Shotgun Combo, Gin Rum and Truth, and Calebral. Tickets for the concert will be sold via Ticketmelon. When all is said and done, the money to be earned from this project will go to enhancing the existing facility in Minis.

“We intend to build lodging facilities for the faculty,” Langomez said. He added that group also plans to finance a community library and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to improve the learning environment of the kids.

Would this be enough to secure a better future for them? Would this ultimately sway them from being involved in deeds that can disrupt peace? The group believes that there is no guarantee.

Life, after all, is unpredictable. Additionally, Minis continues to be a challenging place to live in. Visually, Col. Pambid describes it as a paradise because of its white sand and pristine waters but it remains to be a remote island disadvantaged because of underdevelopment. Its community is also quite fragile, still reeling from the tumultuous past it’s been subjected to. More aid might be needed not just for its children, but for the island as a whole.

All that being said, however, Col. Pambid reiterated that this—the creation of school and what it represents—is still a step in the right direction.

“One day, we will achieve real peace,” he said in Filipino. And as far as he is concerned, the journey to peace in Minis began years ago. It started around that time when his fellow soldiers started teaching the kids using a board damaged by bullets—that remnant of a violent past used in an attempt build a more peaceful future.

Editor’s Note: Tickets for Musika’t Aklat can be purchased here.

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