Volunteering: the Key to Peace in Bangsamoro

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Goldin Global Fellow, Philippines

There is a strong relationship between peace building and the role of volunteerism in the promotion of social cohesion, reconciliation, civic engagement, and the development of local human capacities. Volunteerism generates forms of social capital that are indispensable to peacebuilding, and it plays an important role in aiding the development of citizens capacities. While every post-conflict situation is unique, volunteerism is known to help regenerate certain fractured or absent dynamics that the processes of reconstruction and reconciliation typically aim to address.

Volunteerism is embedded in the Philippines, as voluntary activities have been carried out for centuries. Bayanihan is the traditional term for volunteerism in the Philippines.

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The term "bayanihan" relates to ancient traditions of values and is frequently associated with voluntary cooperation, such as when community members help one another move homes.

In the southern part of the Philippines, in the Bangsamoro region, volunteering has a significant role in sustaining the gains of the peace process. Volunteering is manifested in active citizenship in the Bangsamoro Youth Transition Priority Agenda (BYTPA) of the Bangsamoro Youth Commission (BYC). It includes active participation in the creation and appreciation of Filipino arts and culture as well as active volunteerism in youth-focused groups, networks, and other community organizations. Volunteering among diverse youth groups, especially in planning and decision-making for relevant programs conducted by youth-serving ministries and agencies, NGOs, and local government units (LGUs), can help to achieve regional and national peace. All youth are encouraged to share their unique culture, arts, and crafts in order to foster deeper connections and harmony among the different young populations in the region.

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This sharing will also help preserve the various subculture’s diverse and amazing customs and arts. Volunteerism that exhibits social awareness and socio-civic consciousness, as well as the formation of values such as compassion for others and social responsibility, are all strategies to achieve active citizenship in community development and nation-building. To achieve this, Bangsamoro Youth Commission strengthens enabling mechanisms like policies and programs that support youth organizations and participation; engages youth in the preservation, protection, development, and promotion of Bangsamoro culture and arts; instils volunteerism through academic and community engagement; and fosters social awareness and responsibility in youth. Active citizenship in this aspect develops strategies to increase the number of youth volunteers in order to facilitate, diversify, and sustain youth volunteerism in the Bangsamoro region.

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The Bangsamoro youth defined volunteerism as an interest, a willingness to serve, a passion, a commitment, a selfless act. The youth volunteers commit to being active citizens in promoting BYC's transition agenda based on moral governance, with a focus on utilizing knowledge, strengths, skills, and other resources to promote youth issues in relation to peace and development, and in rendering services without expecting anything in return.

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Volunteerism is critical for the Bangsamoro youth because it serves as a reinforcement to the government's efforts and serves as a link between the regional and local governments and the community. Likewise, young people initiate research and data collection in order to express the public's demands and interests. On the other hand, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) institutions support youth volunteers by providing opportunities for knowledge sharing about health issues and establishing social enterprises for them. Scholarships for Bangsamoro youth and linkages to other organizations may be some of the services provided by the BARMM ministry. Furthermore, the stability of peace and order in some areas of the region must be prioritized to ensure safety, and young people must benefit from peace gains, especially in conflict-affected areas.

In places affected by violence, youth and youth organizations operate in schools or madaris, local communities, and other institutions such as churches and mosques. They focus on offering opportunities for volunteers and young people to engage in social responsibility and become agents of positive social transformation, peace, and sustainable development. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, various youth organizations developed projects to aid government and non-government organizations in the fight against the virus. This included hosting online conversations, promoting youth stories, projects, and home quarantine activities which provided psychosocial and peer support to youth during a period where there was a lot of uncertainty, worry, and daily changes.

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Like other youth serving organizations in the Bangsamoro, Volunteers’ Initiatives in Bridging and Empowering Society (VIBES), an organization for which I am Founder, started from local youth volunteer outreach activities in Cotabato City and surrounding regions. Following the positive responses, we formed a space called the volunteers hub which allowed volunteers to participate in initiatives that "give back" to the communities. In VIBES, we believe that in everything we do, peacebuilding is our ultimate goal. We believe that all advocacy efforts, whether offline or online, in the areas of empowerment, the environment, and education, among others, contribute to the peaceful and sustainable development of our local communities. Whatever path we take, our goal is to provide avenues for youth advocacy and a chance to bring their visions to life.

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In VIBES, we practice the Cycle of VIBES Volunteer Service as a framework of our operation, such as Identification of Volunteer Opportunities, Asset Mapping, Recruitment or Pool of Volunteers, Orientation and Capacity Building, Deployment & Immersion, and Documentation, Monitoring, and Evaluation.

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In this endeavor, the whys of volunteering include valuable experience, increasing self-esteem, avenues for awareness and voice, social status, and spaces for social networking. In all of our initiatives, we involve various stakeholders as well as connectors. We make sure to understand the context of the community we serve, practice the Do No Harm principle, map the assets, and address their needs. Cultural sensitivity and a safe approach are significant. That is why speeches, words, and terms matter. We continue to explore and welcome innovative approaches, especially as we are dealing with young Bangsamoro.

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Volunteers play a crucial role as enablers and multipliers in shaping the Bangsamoro youth as proactive agents of peace, development, and social transformation. The youth advocate moral governance as the guiding principle for all development programs. It stems from the willingness of the youth volunteer to serve in accordance with God's will. In full support of the whole-society approach, the idea of inclusion is implemented in order to promote a safe, non-discriminatory environment. It promotes respect for ethnic, gender, religious, and cultural diversity. The efforts and contributions of the youth volunteers introduce developments to the existing public and private sector systems and mechanisms. In the volunteers' continuous pursuit of social transformation, they serve as a key to sustaining the gains of the peace process in the Bangsamoro region and an extension of the development partners by maintaining the latter's ideals and aspirations in relation to the Bangsamoro's principles and vision.

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