By: Datuan M. Magon, Jr.
April 1, 2013: On June 01-July 30 I was in Australia to attend the two-month Leadership Training Program for Young Muslim Leaders at Melbourne, Australia. Organized by La Trobe University – Center for Dialogue in association with the Islamic Council of Victoria, with the support of the Government of Victoria and the Commonwealth of Australia through the Regional Communities outreach program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Malaysia Institute and the Australia Thailand Institute said training program aims to empower young Muslim men and women and help them to reach their full potential as citizens and future leaders; develop the skills that young Muslims need to engage confidently and creatively with all levels of government, business, academia, the professional world, the media, and religious and community organizations; give course members the opportunity to meet and talk with decision-makers in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
This will include visits to state and federal parliaments, universities, the courts, media networks, churches, temples and synagogues; encourage new thinking about Australia and its place in the world and the contribution Muslims can make to help meet the challenges of the future. Of the twenty four participating youth leaders, two participants were chosen from each Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Sixteen were Melbourne locals coming from different ethnic backgrounds. My other companion was Jehan Diron Alangca, a very humble and talented young woman connected with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Office of the Solicitor-General.
The course components were Training of Trainer Workshop; Introductory Seminar; South East Asia & Australia Workshop; Train the Trainer Workshop 2; Muslim Community Workshop; Projects in the Community Seminar and Evaluation Workshop.
Aside from these trainings there was also a three-day conference on Prospect for Peace in the Middle East; three city study tour from Melbourne, Canberra to Sydney and the six-week Our World in Crises Course primarily designed to understand our rapidly globalizing world and Australia’s place in it particularly issues involving human rights, climate change, poverty and development, racism, peace and war.
The first city travel was on July 15-17, 2010. Under this 3-day journey, we first visited the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I talked with some of their diplomats especially the Head of the AusAID and BEAM Project. We discussed a lot of things on Mindanao issues vis-à-vis the peace process and the role of United Youth for Peace and Development, Inc. (UNYPAD). I introduced to them the UNYPAD Programs especially its advocacy work in support of dialogue and negotiation. In the evening we had a dinner meeting at the Syrian Embassy. It was of course hosted by the Syrian Ambassador.
Among the invited guests were Arab diplomats including Palestinian Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand.
In that dinner meeting, the discussion anchored on the Palestinian issue. We discussed the issue of the Palestinian and I was given a chance to share the Moro cause and angled it in similarity with the Palestinian cause.
On the second day, we visited the Australia’s Parliament. We had discussions some of the members of the Parliament and some senators including their future prime minister. After the meeting, when we returned to the hotel, I was invited by some of our fellow participants to share with them the Moro situation and the UNYPAD. It was a very fruitful discussion. In the third day we made a courtesy visit at the Philippine Embassy in Australia and visited the Australian War Memorial.
Our second Australian city exposure was on July 14-18, 2010. On July 14 we arrived at the Sydney Airport. Our first destination was the Australia Catholic University. We met some of their brothers and discussed with them the Bangsamoro situation. A professor in that university gave lecture on their community engagement around Asia and Africa. He mentioned the Philippines but did not touch the Moro issue.
At the height of the discussion I argued that Church worker must prioritize the Mindanao issue because the poverty of the Philippines is just a small percentage of the problem. The Christians of the North and Central Philippines are suffering poverty. However, the Muslims of Southern Philippines are suffering not only from poverty but also human rights abuses and the worst of them is the continued denial of their right to govern themselves.
On July 15 we visited an Aboriginal Church of Reconciliation. I was given three minutes to share the Moro sufferings under the hands of the Philippine government who grabbed the lands of the Moro and Indigenous peoples. After my explanation, we discussed for a future collaboration to hear our situation and the role of UNYPAD because they really appreciated the organization’s function.
After our lunch we went to the Sydney National Sport Center to talk with other youth leaders. I was introduced by a brother to Mr. Kuranda Seyfi Seyit (from a Turkish background) who is the Executive Director of Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relation (FAIR). I introduced UNYPAD to him. He said that next year he would be running a project to bring Australian Youth to Mindanao. I told him that our organization is very much open for future collaboration especially when it comes to youth empowerment vis-à-vis Moro situation.
He also said that his brother plans to go to Mindanao and that he would give to him my business card (calling card). The following day, we visited the ABC Media, one of the largest media stations in Australia. The Moro issue was also tackled. They just launched an online news publication focusing on youth empowerment. During the break time I explored to the editor the possibility of including the Moro Question in their publication.
The response was “yes” and they would be glad if I would become a regular contributor.
On July 17, we went to the Sokka Gakkai International for a whole day interfaith and exchange of issues. I was given 10 minutes to talk on the Moro Question. I shared to them the narrative account of the Moro struggle. We spent our last day to visit the Muslim community in Lakemba and the Auburn Gallipolli Mosque.
Our third city tour was conducted in Melbourne. We visited the Supreme Court of Melbourne, the Federal Police and the Aboriginal Museum, among others. We also had a three-day conference on the Prospect for Peace in the Middle East. It was my first time to encounter and exchange ideas with youths from a Jewish background. The discussion was so intense and emotional but at the end of the day we were united in the claim that ‘dialogue is the only key to understanding and unity.’
The two-month journey to a foreign land taught me moral lessons and optimism in my passion to contribute my ideas for a peace in Mindanao particularly in the field of dialogue.
My mentor once said “in dialogue even a personification of the evil has a moral lesson,” meaning there is no alternative for dialogue. It gave me optimism that discussing matters harmoniously would bridge misunderstanding and will give way to forgiveness and harmonious coexistence.
(This story was originally published at DALUDAYA newsletter Volume 3, July-September 2010. DALUDAYA is the Official Publication of the Mindanao Action for Peace and Development Project. A Project of ACF, UNYPAD, BDA and funded by EC. Datuan Magon is the UNYPAD Deputy Secretary-General for Administration.)