IT CAN BE YOU: The Power of Education to Change the World

by Rahib L. Kudto

Speech delivered during the Baccalaureate Ceremony of Class 2015 on March 31, 2015, at the Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST), in Arakan, Cotabato

Alhamdulillahe wabihi nastaeen, wassalatu wassalamo ala Rasulillah, wa ba’d, Assalamo Alaykom Warahmatullahe wa Barakatuhu!

Our distinguished administrators, professors, graduates, guests, ladies and gentlemen, Good Morning.

I am gratefully honoured of this opportunity to speak to address all of you today. I am deeply humbled by this experience, and blessed to be sharing this joyous celebration with you.

My fellow graduates, we have traversed a long, winding journey for us to reach where we are today. We dreamt. We strived. And now we are reaping the seeds that we sowed. Let us take pride, dignity, and humility from this important feat in our lives.

 

Messages of Thanks

We could have not reached this far if not for the people who supported us along the way. With that in mind, please allow me the opportunity to extend to them our profound gratitude and sincere thanks.

Thank you to the esteemed faculty members of the CFCST, headed by no less than the President, Dr Samson Molao. Thank you for the knowledge, skills, dedication and commitment you have passionately shared with us. Thank you for providing us an environment for quality and meaningful education. Your firm belief in our ability as students inspired us to believe in ourselves and to imagine the future we want to achieve for our family and for the people of Mindanao.

Thank you to all sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of the great founder of our beloved institution, Bai Haja Matabay Plang. Thank you for sharing and inspiring this collective effort to realize her dream of establishing peaceful and prosperous communities in Mindanao through meaningful access to education. Your support sustained her legacy to build the capacity of Mindanaoans to aspire for greater heights.

Thank you also to all parents, spouses, family members and friends who are present here today to celebrate with us in this important day. Thank you for encouraging us with your unwavering support to achieve our success. We strongly feel your joys, happiness, and love reverberate in every corner of this gymnasium.

My brothers and sisters, let me get straight to the core message of my speech today: that is, to value our education and use it to create positive social change.

 

The Change-Makers’ Stories

In relation to this, I wish to give you two examples of change-makers who have greatly inspired the world with their commitment to education.

The first change-maker is Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba. A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 1993, he is a great believer in education and life-long learning. He believes that education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world. Examining Mandela’s life, he used his education as a source of strength in his long walk to freedom and struggle for democracy in South Africa. Because of his education, and unfaltering commitment to human rights, he was able to redeem his country from the horrors of long years of apartheid. He was able to rally his people back to the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness. He served twenty-seven (27) cruel and tough years in prison for fighting against racial inequality, but he did not waste his time doing nothing. He read his books, he continued his legal education, and afterwards used what he had learned to liberate himself and his people from oppression.

Malalai Yousafzai is another change-maker who values education. At the age of twelve, she almost paid with her life for speaking out against the banning of education in her village in Pakistan. She survived the bullet with great resilience. She did not allow such tragedy to weaken her resolve. Without fear, and with passion, she continues her campaign to fight for the right of all girls and boys in the world to live in peace, to be treated with dignity, to equality of opportunity, and to be educated. From being an ordinary girl from a small village whose life was almost taken away from her, her advocacy has widely grown to international prominence and her voice is now being heard by nations all over the world.

My brothers and sisters, the stories of these two great leaders enable us to see how education can change us in ways we could not imagine. It does not matter if we are deprived of our freedom like Madiba, or if we are only as young as the 12-year old Malalai. Education liberates us from ignorance, shields us from hopelessness, and fortifies our ability to face challenges. No suffering or violence could defeat our commitment to equality and peace. No status or age could discriminate our access to personal and social development. No prison bars or bullets could steal our dreams for a better, safer world.

 

The Power of Education

The pressing question now is: how does education create positive social change? I know you all have answers to this. You all have stories to share. Our personal experiences and journeys make each of our perspectives unique and important in this very important discourse. Please allow me then to share with you five of the most important lessons I gathered in life about the power of education, taken from my own personal journeys, with the hope that these would reflect your own learnings, resonate with your own journeys, or inspire new ways of thinking.

Lesson No. 1: Education fosters peace.

In almost two decades of committing my life as a peace advocate, it has been proven time and again how lack of understanding of the real cause of conflict in Mindanao could claim the lives of many ordinary civilians and displace several communities. Who could ever think that lack of understanding can lead to deaths and displacements? All efforts to put a primacy to the peace process can be rendered useless if we do not make people understand its importance in our lives. We need to understand the narratives that triggered the armed conflict in Mindanao and acknowledge the historical injustices that brought our nation to chaos in the contemporary period.

If we are able to achieve that, only then can we pursue real change. Only then can we realize how important it is to listen to those who seek for real peace and to respect the self-determination of the oppressed nations. Instead of using our power and resources to malign a legitimate cause, let us use them to participate in protecting the minorities and marginalized peoples from racial prejudice, in rebuilding the societies devastated by violence and in healing the wounds of the past. In order to correct these narratives, we need to read the appropriate books and literature that describe the real history of Mindanao and to enhance the peace discourses by articulating and sharing them with other peoples and nations in pursuit of dialogue and reconciliation.

I could speak the same for Islam. As an Ustadz, it saddens me to see how Muslims are discriminated and stereotyped in many parts of the world and how our religion is misrepresented to be a breeding ground for radicalist and extremist movements. The September 11 attacks on the United States of America, the intractable conflicts in the Middle East, the senseless killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the massacres of thousands of people by the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the terroristic attacks led by ISIS and other recent events in which Islam is frequently depicted as predisposed to conflict and violence have only served to reinforce this widespread perception.

Contrary to how it is irresponsibly depicted by the mainstream media, and to how it is wrongly brandished by fundamentalist groups, Islam does not in any way promote terrorism. Islam is a religion of peace. It upholds justice and human rights, protects life, and promotes unity. It encourages compassion, understanding and patience. Its greatest form of jihad is not the armed struggle for liberation but the personal transformation towards goodness, the purification of the soul, and the abandonment of hatred, material desires, and ephemeral pleasures.

Muslims are expected to exemplify the virtues of modesty, humility and forgiveness. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) summarized the conduct of a Muslim when he said: “My Sustainer has given me nine commands: to remain conscious of God, whether in private or in public; to speak justly, whether angry or pleased; to show moderation both when poor and when rich, to reunite friendship with those who have broken off with me; to give to him who refuses me; that my silence should be occupied with thought; that my looking should be an admonition; and that I should command what is right.”

We can only understand the real perspectives of Islam on war and peace if we do not only rely our facts on the portrayals of mainstream media, but also if we take the time and open our hearts to seek the truth and understand the real situation. Let us take, for example, the AlShabab’s attack in Kenya on November 22, 2014 where the Muslim fighters hijacked a bus and killed twenty-eight (28) non-Muslims onboard the bus. The group claimed the attack as part of their jihad to defend Islam. When this type of event is reported, we should dig deeper. Is this jihad within the tenets of Islam? Did the group righteously represent the teachings of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him)? Where did the group originate? What are their real political interests? If we seek the answers to these questions, we will realize that this violent and inhumane attack is in no way acceptable in Islam.

This is why the role of education is invaluable to foster peace. If we read the right information, study the real history, and learn the appropriate context, we will avoid demonizing other groups of different religious or cultural backgrounds. We will instead reconcile our differences and transform our relationships to something positive and constructive.

Lesson No. 2: Education promotes development.

We are privileged to be a part of an institution that is committed to this. With the vision of becoming a “haven of intellectuals” by 2013, CFCST commits to building a strong institution of scholars and practitioners who are able to effectively uplift the socio-economic status of the peoples and communities of Mindanao. CFCST sees to it that development does not occur only within our own professional trajectories but also within the economic growth of the region of Cotabato.

We have been educated and trained to use our capacities to break free our region from the bondage of poverty and hopelessness. Let us all commit ourselves in raising the torch of leadership in order to illuminate the way in which our region moves forward towards stability. Let us work hard to translate the vision of CFCST into a reality.

I also am blessed to be a part of an organization that commits to development. I have served as the National President of United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) since its inception in 2004. As a non-government organization, with over 10,000 members all over the country, it is our mission to mobilize young individuals and equip them with essential knowledge, skills and technologies that enable them to pursue creative and effective ways not only to achieve peace but also to promote just and sustainable development.

Experience has taught us the importance of providing our young individuals the educational opportunities through relevant trainings and other meaningful learning exercises that will enhance their self-esteem and improve their abilities to contribute to the overall development of the local communities.

Especially now that we are transitioning towards the establishment of an autonomous political state, called as the Bangsamoro, we are making conscious efforts to prepare and develop the capacities of our young leaders in the field of governance and socio-economic development.

Lesson No. 3: Education creates disaster-resilient communities.

Similar to the teachings of Christianity and the practices of the indigenous peoples, Muslims are expected to respect the environment and act kindly not only towards human beings but to all living beings. Qur’an 6:38 states that: “There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms part of communities like you.” It is our duty, therefore, to protect our environment not only for ourselves and the future generations who have the right to live in a healthy environment.

Environmental degradation is one of our most serious problems nowadays. One of the causes that lead to this problem is lack of awareness of various environmental issues. Education plays a key role in informing and driving our environmental decisions in the national, community, and personal levels.

Lack of capacity to prepare for disasters is another problem. With sufficient knowledge and technical ability, we are able to take the initial steps in building more disaster-resilient communities.

Lesson No. 4: Education enhances organizational and leadership capacities.

Experience is still the best teacher when it comes to relating with people. But with proper education, we become aware of the methods, tools, and processes that we can use and implement to lead an organization, engage with co-workers, and mediate conflicts.

Organizational and leadership issues cut across different fields, and we are learning these through our subjects in class either consciously or subconsciously. We develop these skill sets through group exercises, class presentations, or school activities. We also determine our people skills by interacting with classmates, other students, or our professors. These experiences develop our characters as leaders. When you all go out to the real world, you will be able to test these characters when you already get involved in an organization. You will realize that it is not an easy job. In an organization, there are different cultures and personalities involved. With the proper awareness and respect of these diversities, we will be able to work in harmony with the group. On the other hand, if interactions are made without being sensitive to other people’s feelings, we end up finding ourselves in conflict with them. But if we have the proper dispositions to get things right, we will be able to manage it well. Conflict is inevitable part of an organization, but instead of using it to pull other people down, we should consider it instead as an opportunity for learning and reconciliation.

It is important that we use our education to never allow conflict to divide us, nor to allow our emotion to cloud our judgment. While we need to be open to criticisms, we should also be willing to provide constructive feedbacks and share praises to other people’s accomplishments when necessary. While self-care is important, we should also be able to balance our personal life so as not to affect our priorities at work. And while it is important to assert your own space that makes you conducive to do work, it should also be important to share a space with the group for collective learning and mutual interactions.

Lesson No. 5: Education makes you who you are.

That is the beauty of education. It not only allows you to explore the areas that interest you, but also joins you in your journey to find your niche. To find your purpose and meaning, it allows you to see the world that your feet can’t reach, but that which your mind can imagine. It empowers our character and nourishes our soul. It is one of the most critical investments we can make. It makes us a catalyst for a better future.

Seventeen years ago, I was in this very same venue to receive the conferment of my diploma for my college degree. Never in my wildest dream would I have imagined that several years later, I will be able to go back here to receive another diploma, this time for a doctoral degree. I thought it’s already impossible. I should say that between then and now, I have become a better and stronger person.

  

Misconceptions around Education

Now that I have shared with you five ways that education can change us and the world, it is important to also correct some misconceptions and misrepresentations about it.

  1. Education does not only happen within the four corners of our classrooms. It happens everywhere – in our homes, in our organizations, and in our communities. While classroom is a living laboratory of the world, the world is the extension of our classroom.
  2. Education does not end after we receive our diploma today. Education is a lifelong commitment to seek the truth and understand the world.
  3. Education is not just about learning. It is also about un-learning the wrong lessons and re-learning the forgotten but important issues.
  4. Education is everyone’s right. I could not imagine a world without helping provide better education for the children, especially the marginalized and the disadvantaged.
  5. Education also knows no age, race or color. No matter how young or old you are, no matter which race you come from, or regardless the color of your skin, you have all the right in the world to access quality education.

 

The Power to Create Social Change

For many, education is pursued so as to have a weapon for surviving the challenges of mundane life. Many parents used to say “go to school so that you will become engineer, lawyer, nurse, doctor and then we can build a beautiful house, we can have our own car or vehicle”. Very few parents that used to say “study hard so that if you will become a lawyer, a doctor, etc. you can best serve the nation or at least you will no longer become a burden of the state”.

Serving a nation is an individual and collective responsibility, and we can be more effective in doing it if we get educated. Education is the only key to peace, progress and development, and a pathway to building a nation and a state that are responsive to the needs and wishes of our diverse communities.

Let us use education as our weapon to reduce poverty, protect human rights of our people especially those who are weak, liberate those who are in the bondage of oppression, and save ourselves and our people who are already in the brinks of the well because of the sins we are committing day-by-day. Let us not use our education in oppressing the weak, in suppressing other people’s rights, and in putting our brothers or sisters in mortification because, at the end of the day, we are all servants of God.

In relation to this, allow me to share with you the words of Hon. Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Panel and Chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), who said, “The first best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago but the second best time to plant a tree is now.”

Don’t be hopeless. Be action-oriented. Continue to do things until they are achieved. Be determined in the search for truth and justice. And, never forget that optimism, stamina and courage are your greatest weapons in navigating all these ways. Take courage. Remember that success is best measured in the number of trials you have survived and hurdles you have overcome.

The power lies in our hands. We all have the capacity to cross oceans and move mountains. With small steps, we can create greater things. With small dreams, we can reach greater heights. Never underestimate your capacity to create alternative solutions to our suffering world. You all have the powerful potential to transform our world into a society where peace and justice can reign. The world awaits you. You can be the next Madiba. Or the next Malala. Or the next change-maker in your own right.

Yes, it can be you!

Wassalamo alaykom warahmatullahe wabarakatuh.