Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Living, Learning, and Working for Peace in the Philippines

Laura Wise shares some of her experiences as a new Mission Intern in the Philippines.
Photo Courtesy of Laura Wise

By Laura Wise

I arrived here in Davao on September 12th. I had about a week to settle in then got straight to work. My next 3 weeks I spent traveling to different parts of Mindanao for different events. This included: a Human Rights Defenders Training, a ‘School of Peace’ training, and a visit to an evacuation camp. I’m working with an NGO here called InPeace (Initiatives for Peace Mindanao). We do organizing and advocacy work surrounding the various issues the island of Mindanao is facing. I am doing a lot of the design and creative work associated with our various campaigns. This makes me really happy; I’m doing what’s familiar to me even in unfamiliar place.

The biggest take-away I have from these first 3 months is the incredible amount I’ve learned in such a short period of time. The issues here in Mindanao, in the entire Philippines really, are complex.

Historically the Philippines has been colonized 4 times. First by Spain when in 1521 Magellan “discovered” the islands and named them after the King of Spain, Phillip II. The island was then ceded to the U.S for $20 million as part of the terms of the 1898 Treaty of Paris. The Japanese then took over the Philippines during World War II days, and they were taken back again by the U.S. after the war. 

The country was granted “independence” from the U.S. in 1946 although the U.S. still holds very close ties with the Filipino government. Currently U.S. troops are occupying parts of the island of Mindanao, and Filipino citizens are not happy about it.

What’s been really eye opening, is how much the Filipino people know about the U.S. Some of my fellow organizers were able to teach me a few things about my own country! It’s made me realize how I, as an American citizen, have been so naïve to the happenings of world politics, although I thought I knew so much watching CNN nightly.

A large part of the struggle here in Mindanao is on behalf of the indigenous people and their rights to land. To make a long story short-- Mindanao is an island very, very rich in natural resources including gold, copper, nickel, and oil. This has peaked the interest of multi-national mining companies who have come in to search for the treasure. The problem is:

1) They are encroaching on land that has belonged to the indigenous people of this island for centuries. Land is Life is the saying, which reflects the way of life of the indigenous people here in Mindanao. The Philippines economy is 70% agriculture, so if you take away the people’s land, how do they survive? How does the country survive?

2) Large-scale mining is destructive. It is destructive, and hazardous. If it doesn’t destroy the land that was once used to harvest crops, then the chemicals that the mines will emit will poison the lakes, and rivers.
People have started to mobilize, including the organization I am working with to stand against the mining companies. Because of this, there have been many human rights violations; indigenous people and vocal activist have been murdered for their stand against the mining companies. I view this as modern-day martyrdom.

The struggles of the people here remind me of some of the struggles we as African-Americans have faced in the United States. Being here has redefined for me what means it to be black. As I’m sure you can imagine there aren’t many tall black girls with big curly hair here, so I usually attract many on-lookers as I move about town. I’m like a local celebrity!

I could type for 3 more days about all that I’ve learned so far, so I will stop here. With all that I’m learning, at times I have felt overwhelmed. It’s hard to not only see, but start to understand the issues that people here, and in other parts of the world are dealing with. 

I’m still in a period of adjustment. I’m experiencing all new sights, sounds, and culture… Overall, my experience has been a positive one. Some days I’m working on something fun at work, and am so excited to be here. Other days I wake up and think to myself, “What am I doing here?”

I don’t say this to make any of you concerned for me, but I say this to be completely honest. And to be completely honest, good days come and go, but I feel so very blessed to be here. To be at a point in my life where God has me on the potter’s wheel, once again, shaping me into something even greater.

I’ve been so inspired thus far by the culture here; the colors, the fabrics, the way of life…and not to mention the jewelry is absolutely fabulous. My brain is constantly at work. I’m writing down all my thoughts, feelings, and ideas for wherever the Lord leads me next. Overall I’m taking it day by day, soaking in every lesson big or small that presents itself.

Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. Please keep the prayers coming! I will continue to need them I promise.



Laura K. Wise is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving as a peace advocate associate with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. This blog post is an adaptation of a holiday letter she wrote to some of her supporters. Follow her journey or connect with her at www.ellewise.com and www.ellewise.tumblre.com.

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