Peace seems to be an elusive goal in the Muslim part of our country. Here’s a letter I wrote early in this year that is ending. It contains some ideas that may help.
I recently read the story of Greg Mortenson, an American mountaineer who, in 1993, lost his way coming down from K2, the second highest peak in the world, and found himself helped by poor people in a village called Korphe. The people were Muslims. In gratitude he promised to build for them a school. He did and ever since, he has built schools for poor villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan that educate up to 28,000 children.
Syed Abbas, a mullah, gave a speech on the occasion of the inauguration of a school, built by Greg Mortenson, in Kuardu, North Pakistan on September 14, 2001 just three days after the famous September 11:
“We share in the sorrow as people weep and suffer in America today as we inaugurate this school. Those who have committed this evil act against the innocent, the women and children, to create thousands of widows and orphans, do not do so in the name of Islam. By the grace of Allah the Almighty, may justice be served upon them.
“I request America to look into our hearts and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we are without education. But today, another candle of knowledge has been lit. In the name of Allah the Almighty, may it light our way out of the darkness we find ourselves in.”
The Muslims in Mindanao I think are like these Muslims in Pakistan and even like us: “good and simple people”. They are poor because as Syed said they are “without education”. I tell you this story because perhaps in it we can find some idea to help us obtain peace in Muslim Mindanao. And the idea is: build schools.
I visited the official website of the Department of Education for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. According to their official figures, as of 2006, there was a need for 2804 classrooms in the entire region! And for that year there were 1269 classrooms “to be built”. There were no reports, however, if they were even built. In another page of the website there is a report of more recent data. For 2010 the target number of classrooms to be built was 254. Assuming that the population has grown since 2006, those 254 new classrooms are grossly insufficient. The DepEd website also revealed the costs of these classrooms about which I will not comment anymore. You can check them for yourself.
It might seem that DepEd cannot build all those needed classrooms. Perhaps Muslim Mindanao might need people like Mr. Mortenson to help them. Might there not be “Mortensons” in our midst?
Once more in this aspect of our national life we can see that peace is the work of justice as well as solidarity. Our Muslim brothers have a right to knowledge, culture and education. Everyone will agree that educating them will lead to their development which Pope Paul VI once said is the new name for peace.