Asmin works for Kapamagogopa Incorporated (KI), a local peacebuilding organization based on the Philippine island of Mindanao. We spoke to Asmin to hear about her work, how violence affected her family, and her hopes for a peaceful future.
She began by volunteering for KI, before becoming a community organizer, and now supports their work to promote interfaith understanding and to rebuild communities affected by violence that flared up in the city of Marawi in 2017. We have partnered with KI since 2013 through support in project implementation and access to funding, and in strengthening their ability to play a central role in peacebuilding efforts.
This is Asmin’s story
My name is Asmin Monib. I’m 27 years old and I’m from Marawi City in the Philippines, on the island of Mindanao.
How did you get involved with Kapamagogopa Incorporated (KI)?
I decided to become a volunteer with local organization KI back in 2013 during my time at university, as part of their program placing Muslim volunteers in communities across Mindanao. I was initially placed in the Visayas region, in Cebu to be specific, for around a year. I was placed in a non-Muslim organization in Cebu, which supports people with disabilities, and also provide services for the deaf community.
Can you share a particular memory that stands out from your volunteer placement?
During my placement in Visayas I acted as a Filipino sign language interpreter, which was one of the big achievements. Having an interpreter really enables the hearing-impaired to have a voice, and for their message to be shared. I was involved in a case involving a young child and by supporting them to communicate through sign language I helped to ensure the deaf child had access to their rights and had their voice heard.
I would like to invite other young people to get involved in KI’s volunteer program. Every little thing really counts. I’d say to young people “do not waste your time on Facebook and on social media, those things. Maybe you can do something – be productive, become a volunteer.”
During your time in the Visayas community did you see a change in the way the community responded to you as a Muslim?
Yes I do. I really tried my best to share my culture with others. During my first week in the organization, I made a presentation about being a Muslim, about the culture of the Maranaos (a predominantly-Muslim community originating on the Philippine island of Mindanao). I explained how we dress, how we eat, what are those attitudes and other that they may be interested in. It helped people understand that being a Muslim does not mean being a terrorist – that our religion is also very peaceful. We really exchanged and interacted, sharing our thoughts with our non-Muslim friends.
I really felt a change throughout my placement. At the beginning, when I was first immersed within the community, I did not feel that diversity was fully present. However, after just a couple of weeks of Muslims and non-Muslims coming together through the volunteer program and sharing common goals, religion and culture, I felt that the community I was working in became more open-minded and approachable.
We say that we build ART through this work to tackle prejudice between Muslims and Christians – promoting acceptance, respect and trust despite our differences.
What have you done for KI since?
I began as a volunteer for KI, and then I became one of the community organisers for a project supporting women’s empowerment, which takes place in the region of Lanao del Sur, an area affected by conflict. The project aim was to organise a women’s group in certain towns and villages; bringing together ex-combatants, their relatives, and others affected by conflict and violence in the region. We set out to organise the groups for 30-40 participants, but in the end it resulted in over 50 members joining the various groups.
As a local organization, do you think you have a bigger impact on the communities you work in?
Based on my experiences, when people see local NGOs working in their communities, trust is already built as the organization is often already known in that area.
If an international organization comes to the town, there may be less trust there. It’s about being realistic and building trust in the community and being familiar with the places you work in.
Life in Marawi
Can you explain what happened during the Marawi siege in May 2017?
Fighting broke out in the village of Basak Malutlut on May 23, and then violence continued in Marawi between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a groups affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS). The entire community had to flee to nearby towns. Many who escaped had nothing left but the clothes they were wearing, and others were trapped for up to five days before finally getting out. Many individuals and families from Marawi are still living in those temporary camps all over the Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur regions.
On that day I had travelled to the KI office in Iligan and 30 minutes later my sister called me to tell me that violence had reached Marawi and everyone was scared. People didn’t know where to go, where to be safe in certain areas. In my case, my mother and my siblings were trapped in our home in the centre of the city, at what they now call ‘ground zero’; the most affected area, close to our home.
My family were trapped in Marawi for three or four days. My mother was really frightened and afraid.
There were many sleepless nights. You couldn’t actually sleep because of the guns.
I saw our house and it was flattened because of the bombs. We salvaged four glasses, four cups and four plates. These were the only things we have left from our home.
Building peace, keeping hope.
How have you managed to maintain hope?
Maybe I was born with this resilience for giving hope for myself, for my family, and for other people. That there’s always hope. When it rains, there’s the sunshine. I always make sure my family as well as God is my inspiration to be strong and to stand still, not only for my family, but also to the community I serve.
How would you define peacebuilding and what does peace mean to you?
Peace is the inner peace within us and actually we have to learn inner peace. If you don’t have inner peace within you, you can not share the peace for the community. My religion is the meaning of peace for me.
As we define peace, it’s the absence of war, but it’s not only the war, the absence of conflict, and any other forms of biases, prejudices, and negative perspectives of others, and any other forms of violence and acts of terrorism and extremism and I think that is peace.
What are your hopes for peace in Mindanao?
I hope for peace here in Mindanao. I hope for the passage of a long long term peace agreement so we can work together with the government of the Philippines and make it work, together. I think together we can make it work. It’s a matter of respect of diversity and respect of religious freedom so we can exercise our rights to vote and to leave in peace.
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