On August 13, James Castillo, a long-time volunteer at the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, asked me point blanked, “Is there hope for peace and prosperity in the Philippines?”
I paused. I hesitated because I also doubted myself if it’s possible that Filipinos like me living abroad could help back home and make a difference. I took a deep breath and answered him, “Yes, without a doubt.”
I reflected deeply on my answer to James whether it is possible for people working together to become agents of change and peace. On August 10, the holy month of Ramadan started in the Muslim world including in the southern island of Mindanao, Philippines, where many Filipino Muslims live. Muslims celebrate Ramadan as a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and pray during the night; when Muslims offer support to others to advance opportunity and peace for people everywhere.
In the US, President Barack Obama hosted an iftar (meal) at the White House with friends, family and guests. “For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities,” President Obama said celebrating Ramadan (White House press release).
In the Philippines, the Bayanihan Foundation also celebrated the holy month of Ramadan by distributing food packages to over 1,500 people in three predominantly Muslim villages in Iligan City, Philippines in the southern island of Mindanao (see map below).
The Bayanihan Foundation partnered with the Rotary Club of Iligan South and the Zakat Foundation of America, an international charity organization that helps generous and caring people reach out to those in need.
My uncle Vic and aunt Luz, members of the Rotary Club of Iligan South volunteered and helped distribute food packages containing rice, sardines, eggs, powdered milk, soap, pencils and paper for the children.
Uncle Vic, Aunt Luz and the many members of the Rotary Club of Iligan South volunteered many hours shopping, packaging and distributing over 1,500 gift packs for Filipino Muslims that live at or below poverty in Mindanao. For decades, this southern island has been the epicenter of violence between Christians and Muslims living there. If James Castillo asked his question to many Filipinos if peace is possible in Mindanao, many of them would say no.
However, the Muslim families in Iligan City would probably say yes as they receive their gift packages from their Christian Filipino brothers who are members of the Rotary Club of Iligan South. The 1,500 Filipino Muslims that received the food packages of precious rice, eggs and sardines might evolve to change their point of view as they reflect on the question peace in this holy month of Ramadan.
These food packages will not solve the deep divide between Christians and Muslims in the island of Mindanao. But I’m hopeful that these food packages are a small step to healing. I hesitated in answering James’ question if it’s possible to have peace and prosperity in the Philippines. However, I would not hesitate to say yes that these small steps of giving food packages to Filipino Muslims is moving us closer to peace.