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Technology for interfaith dialogue among Filipino students

January 23, 2011 - Tonyo Cruz

A non-governmental organization this week held the latest of their videoconferences between mostly-Christian high school students in Manila and their counterparts in predominantly-Muslim schools in Mindanao.

The Jan. 18 videoconference between students of Esteban Abada High School in Sampaloc, Manila, and Zamboanga State College of Marine Science and Technology in Zamboanga City is part of NGO PeaceTech’s efforts to leverage information communication technology (ICT) tools to foster “understanding and respect between young people throughout the Philippines”.

Manila students talk peace with counterparts in Zamboanga City via a videoconference. Photo from the UK Embassy.

According to a statement from the British embassy, which lent its support to the project

PeaceTech, with the support of the British Embassy’s bilateral programme, employs technology to bridge the gap between young Muslims and non-Muslims separated by distance and background. By opening the lines of the communication, young people are encouraged to embrace diversity, reducing the chances of conflict based on prejudice.

So far, around 50 such videoconferences have been held among students from high schools in Manila, Zamboanga City, Iligan City and other Mindanao areas.

Through the three-hour videoconferences, participating students are given an opportunity to discuss “prejudice, discrimination and conflict” that characterize Mindanao, rightly or wrongly, in the eyes of those who do not live, work or study there.

“There’s no better way to reduce tension and ignorance than by bringing people face to face,” said PeaceTech founder Robin Pettyfer.

Pettyfer added that PeaceTech’s “complement school curriculums [sic] for peace education, communications and history. By tackling the structural causes leading to conflict, the project clarifies misinterpretations about issues and promotes solidarity among people of different backgrounds.”

Stephen Lillie, the British Ambassador to the Philippines, is naturally proud of the embassy’s support for the project:

We support peace efforts in communities affected by conflict. Our bilateral programme fund has been supporting peace-building projects that help lay the ground for lasting peace in Mindanao. This project promotes understanding and acceptance of cultural and religious differences between young people, which is an important part of the peace building process.

The project comes at the heels of President Benigno Aquino III’s formation of a negotiating panel to resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a revolutionary movement aspiring to form a separate Muslim state on the basis of its right to self-determination.

Both the Manila government and the MILF also use the internet, mainly through their websites, to propagate their positions and claims in the raging armed conflict between their respective military forces, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

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