By Francisca da Silva, Child Protection Project Coordinator, Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Philippines
People often speak of a conflict in terms of statistics or overarching issues and fail to acknowledge the most important element, the people for whom the conflict is a daily reality. When I reflect on Nonviolent Peaceforce’s (NP) work in the Philippines, it is the close connection with communities and partner organizations that stands out. We address conflict through constructively engaging the people who have experienced it and are the true experts. The focus is on building trust, ensuring non-partisanship and gaining acceptance from communities, local civil society organizations and conflicting parties. This multi-level approach is a critical aspect of the work we do.
We follow a straightforward mandate focused on protection of civilians. Rather than imposing protection measures that we believe are viable, we work with communities to identify strategies that are relevant to their needs. This community-based approach is something that drew me to NP. I am convinced that real solutions come from the actors themselves and are not imposed by an outside entity. This is often challenging, as it is natural for us to seek immediate answers and solutions. We want to put things into boxes, but the reality of conflict is not black and white. There are no boxes, particularly in Mindanao. This is why working with NP as a civilian peacekeeper is such a demanding and interesting job.
NP staff lives in local villages and visits communities in times of conflict, as well as in times of calm. We meet with actors from the grassroots to governing structures. We travel to often-visited communities and to communities never before visited by an non-governmental organization. Often this does not feel like work at all! But this is what allows us to understand the context and complexities of the conflict. It helps us understand the challenges in a comprehensive way and subsequently address situations according to realities on the ground.
I began in the Lanao field office as an international civilian peacekeeper (ICP) and now serve as the child protection project coordinator (CPPC), based out of our Main Office in Cotabato City. It’s interesting to see the work from an overall point of view, from supporting teams to liaising with other organizations. We work with government structures, UN agencies and other international NGOs to respond to the challenges and violations we uncover at the field level.
Whether I’m in the field or main office, the same fundamental principles remain: curiosity, diplomacy, constructive engagement, trust building and non-partisanship. These principles and the relationships built through them are what allow us to help prevent or mitigate conflict and provide response when violence or violations occur.
Relationships among team members are equally important. I have had the privilege of working with and learning from a great cast of characters; the diversity of background, personality and passion of NP staff is one of our strongest assets. I am deeply grateful to the national staff who have been affected by this conflict, for welcoming us internationals. They are unparalleled resources and teachers for understanding the culture, issues and complexities which compose the rich reality of Mindanao. Without them our work would be impossible!