Volunteerism takes center stage in peace week

Posted on December 06, 2011

CAGAYAN DE ORO -- Crossing leech-infested waters, trekking steep slopes of mud in the mountains, long walks to what seemingly would be the borders of nowhere, all for a scanty allowance that could barely cover one’s basic needs.

Such difficulties comprise an ordinary day in the life of young unsung heroes whose wage of smiles and gratitude received have become trite in years of being taken for granted.

This year, however, their work was finally acknowledged by this city’s civil society leaders.

A program called “Kanta Kalinaw” was held at the city’s Kiosko Kagawasan on Wednesday as a tribute to the volunteers and peace builders especially those working to promote Mindanao’s peace initiatives.

“It marks the closing of the Mindanao Week of Peace,” said Geraldine C. Belgica, program coordinator of the Volunteer Organizations Information Coordination and Exchange, Inc. Network.

“It also serves as the kick-off program for the International Year of Volunteers,” she added.

It was the declaration of the International Year of the Volunteer 10 years ago that paved the way for the creation of the network.

Volunteerism, specifically in peace-related work, requires people to go out of their comfort zone.

“In my first long exposures to the community, I did have some difficulty adjusting to the absence of things I had been taking for granted,” said John Ryan N. Mendoza, a volunteer nurse in his 20s of the group Community-Based Health Services.

“The very basic need to go to the comfort room, for example, in many communities we stayed... Sometimes the food that we get would just be tubers for an entire week. But, at the expense of being a cliché, the happiness that I get when I am able to assist people in working for development is beyond temporary hedonistic pleasure,” Mr. Mendoza said.

Volunteering, he said, is not just sharing of time and effort for some who have decided to commit their lives to community work.

For young volunteers working in very remote areas where conflict between the government and rebel groups are most felt, the risk on lives sacrificed is always present.

“In some communities we work in, we are sometimes questioned by government authorities for giving free health services,” Mr. Mendoza said.

“They would even accuse us of extending help to rebel groups. It is frustrating that while we work to fill the gaps that government service or even private organizations could not reach, we are viewed as threats to the development of the country.”

“We hope that in the joint efforts of making peace-building more understood, our work will also be seen in a more positive manner,” said Mr. Mendoza.

The Mindanao Week of Peace, when volunteers are recognized for their sacrifices, was launched in 1999 by the Bishops-Ulama Conference as a venue for promoting the integration of peace in the daily routine of Filipinos.

The theme for this year was as follows: the conflicts, wars and animosities among and between Christians and Muslims in the global society can be traced to the wrong understanding and/or violation of this commandment (love of God, love of neighbor).

The Bishops-Ulama Conference has called for a faith-rooted appreciation of living in peace. This year’s program was joined by different groups such as the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, the Cagayan de Oro Press Club, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. -- L. G. Dumas