Lessons in Peace
(or How a Palanca Essay Made me Believe in Peace Organisations Like CISV Again)
By: Joy Angelica T. Subido
It was early 1990’s, and as Village Director I was presiding over a tense leaders’ meeting in a CISV camp in Hotel Monticello in Baguio City. The subject was the lack of program materials, and there were various requests/complaints from the multinational group that we should get more of these items. I explained that my city had recently suffered from an earthquake; Mount Pinatubo had just unleashed widespread havoc. “Donor fatigue” was a distinct reality, thus body paint were simply beyond our budget. An Adult Leader, whether speaking for himself or verbalising the group opinion, angrily burst out; “then you don’t have the right to even hold a Village!”
That was the turning point for me, the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. Poverty is a wat in itself. Here we were, trying to teach children the concepts of diplomacy, tolerance, cooperation, and peace, but behind their backs we were bickering over trivial matters as body paint! I thought the quality of leadership in CISV had deteriorated and foreswore to have nothing to do with the organisation henceforth.
My parents were firm believers in CISV. An 11-year-old brother Raul, was part of the first delegation from Baguio to attend a CISV Village. He, along with Marcia Anton, Rhea Ferro, and Lionel Leonen went to Guatemala in 1970s. The Adult Leader, Mia Reynoso, was warned that Raul was “a bit spoiled,” so my parents were ecstatic when he came home a better, more responsible person. This was the convincer, I suppose, because our parents shipped out the rest of their children to CISV programs as Child Delegate, Junior Counselor, Adult Leader, and leadership conferences.
I first went to a CISV Village as a Junior Counselor. Flying off alone to Norway aboard one of those Pan-American dinosaurs on a milk run, I had ample time to scare myself silly. That was the time when airplane movies were in vogue, and I freaked myself out by imagining myself in a near-crash, as in Airport, or in a hijacking, as in Raid in Entebbe. Obviously, I got to camp without mishap.
“My schoolyard perspective was replaced by a global one. My village address list was my own personal map of the world.” So wrote a participant in my Village from Canada. Those words captured the essence of my own transformation after Norway. Living in close proximity with people of different nationalities for an entire month, it was difficult not to forge close friendships. Consequently, I became more interested in what was happening in the world around me.
For example when a strong earthquake hit Mexico many years back, I worried over my friend Calixto, who lived near the epicentre. In the same manner, I knew that my CISV friends were concerned about me when my city was hit by a devastating earthquake. The first call that came in after the telephone lines were restored wa from my Japanese friend, Yuka, who sobbed on the phone with relief after finding out that my in touch whenever they hear or read about disasters or kidnappings in the Philippines. But when the “You-don’t-even-deserve-to-hold-a-Village” incident happened, our enthusiasm for CISV turned lukewarm.
Thus when Enrico, the youngest in our family, told us he didn’t want to go to a CISV camp, we didn’t argue. He went to an international school, we reasoned, so he wasn’t deprived of the multinational, multicultural setting that CISV offered. Besides, we had spent enough time in CISV and felt qualified to teach him peace education on our own. In addition, we did our best to expose him through reading materials to the widest range of viewpoints and opinions possible. Discussions at the dinner table took on the air of a CISV seminar camp, and we older people at home relished playing devil’s advocate at those long-winded debates, sometimes incurring concern of out more conservative parents.
In retrospect, it is funny. When our brothers Paulo and Enrico were younger, we older ones could easily dominate the discussions by using highfalutin words quoting obscure philosophers and poets. You have to understand that our family is an argumentative, opinionated lot, averse to being out-talked by anyone. We engage in a constant friendly but serious “mind game.” Well, Paulo and Enrico turned out to be of the same feather. The family’s free-thinking spirit had infected them too, so they could now quote their own obscure passages verbatim and hold their ground in discussions with us. We always had to be on our toes so as not to be out-read or out-argued. We had to be in tune with what was new.
Perhaps the immediate advantage of an environment such as what we tried to provide out children is that they have become comfortable and adept at stringing words together, and are able to coherently organise their ideas. however, I didn’t realise, until now, the far-reaching impact of our CISV-based peace education on their psyches.
This year, Enrico, now 16, won his third Palanca gold for Kabataan Essay with Waging War for Humanity: the Battle for Peace. Reading through his essay, I focus on his last paragraph where he writes, “The irony of peace is that it requires war. That is, war against ignorance, complacency, dehumanisation, and cold-heartedness.”
I realise I was wrong in divorcing myself from CISV because of an unpleasant experience. The good memories of CISV come back in a rush – plunging down the icy waters of the fjords with Trond Magnus in Bergen, crabbing with Junichi in the Jacksonville River, trips to Oslo with Calixto and Terje, the weekend meetings at Tita Linda Lopez’s beach house in Balayan with Tita Nati Toribio, Tito Bobby Montelibano, Leah Badrina and Buddy Montinola. The list goes on.
CISV was founded after World War II by an American pschologist names Doris Allen who was bothered by her son’s question, “Will I have to go to war when I grow up?” Ky youngest brother never went to a CISV Village has answered that question for me: Yes. We have to battle cynicism and keep the faith alive.
(This article was written by Joy Angelica T. Subido and was first published in The Philippine Star, September 6, 2002)