UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter

Highlights of the 5th URI SEAPac Regional Assembly

March 16-21, 2009/ Lanao del Norte, Philippines

Day 0: First Gathering

On Sunday March 15, the SEAPac Regional staff and CC representatives arrived in Tubod, Lanao del Norte in Mindanao Philippines for the longest regional assembly and meeting so far. Combined with the Bowes Awarded 2-Day Leadership Training Program and the Moral Imagination Workshop and Forum, the 5th Regional Assembly was set to be a dynamic and fulfilling activity for everyone.

The delegates were put up at the beautiful Mindanao Civic Center Hotel Musa Sanguila and the Pakigdait CC hosted the regional assembly and set out some activities that involved meeting the local government personalities and civil society members. The Regional Assembly was in partnership with the local government of Lanao del Norte which ensured the safety of the delegates during the visit.

In the afternoon the group was welcomed by the Lanao del Norte Governor's Mother, Imelda Dimaporo, who was also the former Governor of the Province, and treated to a sumptuous afternoon snacks.

After the visit, a Sacred Opening was conducted where in Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh prayers were offered. Symbolic of each one's contribution and commitment to URI's vision and mission, Charles Gibbs (Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative), Marites Guingona –Africa (Global Council Trustee and outgoing Chairperson of the Regional Council), and Musa Sanguila (Regional Trustee and host of the assembly) lighted three candles while those present were requested to pour water into one bowl. Each CC representative placed a rose on the water declaring their support for URI declaring:

On behalf of all the members of (CC NAME), I offer this flower as a symbol of our spiritual bond with the URI Family."

Afterwards, an orientation on the Regional Assembly was given by Shakun Vaswani, Regional Coordinator. Pakigdait CC as host gave an overview about Lanao del Norte and Mindanao

Day 1: Team Building and Company with Governor

The day started with a courtesy call on Governor Mohammad Khalid Dimaporo, the youngest governor in the country. At 28 years old, the Governor is immersed in political and governance work with impressive work on developing peace building initiatives in his province.

The Governor's staff gave each delegate a Tubao (hand/necker chief with Maranao weave) as a necklace with the provincial seal and the symbolic Sarimanok, a legendary Maranao bird usually depicted in Islamic mythology.

After the visit, Pakigdait CC through Abel Moya, its Programs Director, conducted Team Building activities. Grouped into three, the delegates had to prove their team building and leadership skills as they make the tallest pasta noodle and marshmallow tower. An outdoor activity capped the workshop wherein they played ball to work further on teamwork.

In the evening, the Governor hosted a dinner for the delegates by the hotel pool side. Members of the civil society groups were present and they interacted with CC representatives present exchanging ideas and stories.

During the formalities of the evening, Charles Gibbs (Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative publicly recognized the URI funded URISEAPac project "Building Interfaith Cooperation Towards Peace and Development in Lanao del Norte." The project is in partnership with Pakigdait CC and Peacemakers Circle CC with a total funding of $10,633 from the remaining funds of the region in 2008.

Day 2: Bowes Award Leadership Training

The Peacemakers Circle CC was given the Bowes Award to conduct a leadership training to the URI SEAPac Region representatives with the intention of firming up leadership skills among the CC leaders and members. The workshop was facilitated by Marites Guingona-Africa, the Executive Director of the Peacemaker s Circle Foundation.

First the participants created a collective drawing of their understanding and their dream after seeing the Visions of Peace Among Religions which is a presentation on religiously motivated violence around the world throughout history.

A review of the PPP also took place wherein participants were asked to answer the following:

  1. What struck you most about the URI PPP? What attracted you to the URI the most?

  2. How is the URI living up to your vision of peace among religions? Or how is it not?

  3. What capacities and resources do you wish to see the URI develop in itself and bring to the fore as an agent of change?

  4. How do you think you can contribute to this process?

Day 1 aimed at gathering collective insights and visions on URI's organizational structure as a living entity and CC representatives had to find their role as CC leaders within it. Creative juices flowed as groups came up with their own perception on URI's structure as an organism. One group had an image of unique galaxies, spirals, and concentric circles all connected to one main galaxy spiral. Another group had a giant heart as the center with heart expressions emanating out of it. The last group had an octopus with the octopus head as the central force that guides the tentacled members and sub groups.

Day 3: Review of Regional Council By - Laws
On the third day, the dialogue circle assessed the need to review the Regional Council By-Laws. The day was dedicated to reviewing the By-Laws draft prepared by Boni Quirog of Bohol Goodwill Volunteers CC.

The review of By-Laws was facilitated by Dr. Amir Farid Isahak of InSaF CC.

At the end of the day, the Youth CC representatives gathered to meet about upcoming plans that included possible election of representatives per country and a possible youth assembly in Cebu within the year.

Film showings of documentary features, audio visual presentations of United Religions Initiative, Gandhi Puri Ashram CC, COMMON CC, and Pakigdait CC were ongoing from Tuesday to Thursday.

Day 4: Strategic Planning

On the fourth day of the regional assembly, the whole day was given to strategic planning. The assembly reviewed financial reports, programs, and projects for 2008 and for 2009. The Regional Coordinator's Report was conducted by Shakun Vaswani.

It started with the review of the minutes of previous meetings held in Cebu (Regional Assembly 2008), Manila (Trustees Meeting), and Mayapur (Global Assembly 2008). Business arising from the minutes were discussed.

It was recalled that the remaining funds from 2008 will be used for the Mindanao Peace building project c/o Pakigdait CC and Peacemakers Circle CC entitled "Building Interfaith Cooperation Towards Peace and Development in Lanao del Norte" which engages the Moral Imagination Program, Visions of Peace Among Religions, and Psycho-Emotional Healing.

A review of the 2009 Budget of took place afterwards. The budget for 2009 was allocated for the following:

1. Building & Strengthening Regional Coordinating Office

a) Hire a Regional Programs Coordinator.

b) Register the URI SEAP Office as a legal nonprofit organization

c) To improve capacity for regional communication and information dissemination

2. Building Regional Teamwork and Strengthening Leaderships

a) The Regional Assembly 2009 to combine the Bowes Award Leadership Training, the Regional Meeting, and a public workshop forum on Moral Imagination

3. Supporting Local CC Projects and Regional Peace Building

a) IDP Campaign

b) Moral Imagination and VPAR Programs to be conducted in the three zones of the Region. Zone 1 – Vietnam or Cambodia, Zone 2 – Philippines, Zone 3 – Australia

c) Seed Grant Funding for CCs

The Youth CCs had a chance to be highlighted as Sharon Vaswani, Regional Youth Coordinator presented the activities conducted by the youth and the latest news from the Global Youth Council and from the Young Leaders Program participants in Mayapur last year. It was decided that each country will vote for a country representative to report to the Youth Coordinator who will then report to the Regional Trustees.

A special Resource Mobilization Guide presentation was give by Ted Juanite, the Resource Mobilization Officer of Pakigdait wherein tips and information about the fundraising world were shared.

Towards the end of the day, a planning session for the year took place among the following committees:

1. Executive Board - Headed by Chairperson Musa Sanguila

2. Growth and Expansion – Headed by Dr. Amir Isahak

3. Peace and Relationship Building - Headed by Marites Africa

4) Resource Mobilization – Headed by Musa Sanguila

Day 5: Lanao Month of Peace Celebration

The Lanao del Norte Government celebrates the Lanao Month of Peace during March. The Pakigdait CC has played a key role in its declaration and celebration.

The URI SEAP delegates joined the "Panagtagbo" ("Meeting"), an opening activity wherein the Civil Society, Government, and Military start from different origins and meet in the middle signifying the unity of such sectors in promoting peace in Mindanao.

Some delegates were invited to host the interfaith prayers to open the ceremonies. Charles Gibbs, URI Executive Director spoke in behalf of URI's presence in Mindanao.

The closing ceremonies included the release of doves and the planting of the Peace Pole donated by the URI through Mario Toots Fungo (a URI affiliate) of the World Peace Prayer Society.

On the side, the URI SEAP youth delegates worked together with the Interfaith Youth Council of Pakigdait CC in creating a nature mandala out of found leaves and stones around the peace pole. Meditation and interfaith prayers generated a peaceful energy for the creative activity. This was also an activity in solidarity with the Mindanao Peace Power Day celebrated on March 18 with the Sowing Peace Network.

The URI SEAP delegates were graced with the presence of James Lees of the Politic al Affairs Department of the Australian Embassy during the celebration. Mr. Lees was present to meet civil society and grassroots organizations working in partnership with the local government in bringing about peace and development in Mindanao. He stayed with the group until the end of the Regional Assembly.

Field Trip

After a hectic but fulfilling week, the delegates were given an afternoon to rest and explore the beauty of a retreat center called Dapit Alim. One had to climb more than two hundred steps to reach the top. On the top, everyone was treated to large outdoor sculptures which one can interact with – a giant sculpture of the young Jesus, a labyrinth, and an octopus sculpture among others. Animals were free roaming engaging everyone to interact with them. The center is run by a priest and can house several retreat goers.

The delegates were able to relax and breathe fresh air and share powerful energies from the retreat center.

Closing Ceremonies

At the end of the day, the URI SEAPac delegates formally closed the Regional Assembly with a sacred closing ceremony of interfaith prayers and singing. All the efforts and the gift of time by everyone that contributed to the success of the regional assembly were acknowledged that night. Charles Gibbs' inspiring presence was highly appreciated.

Marites Guingona –Africa was honoured as the outgoing Regional Council Chairperson whereas Musa Sanguila was officially recognized as the new chairperson.

Day 6: Moral Imagination Workshop Forum

The final leg of the Regional Assembly was a public workshop – forum on John Paul Lederach's Moral Imagination which URI has embraced as part of its peace building programs. The workshop was facilitated by Marites – Guingona Africa, Regional Trustee and Executive Director of the Peacemakers Circle CC.

The workshop had 50 participants from various sectors : Religious, Civil Society, Government, Military, and Media. The goal was to learn how to use moral imagination as a method in transcending violence and conflict.

After relaying three stories from John Paul Lederach, Marites Africa encouraged the participants to exchange their stories of moral imagination, of creative ways of transcending conflict. Some of the stories worth noting were shared by the Governor who was born from Muslim and Christian Peace activist political rivals; a woman Pastor who worked with Muslims and braved the threats of the military; a young political intern who gave light to a controversial issue by reminding political leaders of their religious values; a civil society leader who convinces the President to invest on a national sports event in his location in order to ensure the protection of his people; and a story of a young man taking care of his sick grandmother in the midst of the MILF attack of their town.

The workshop ended with meaning to those present as they look forward to a more intensive moral imagination engagement from the URI within the next few months.

Farewell Dinner

Pakigdait CC hosted a special dinner al fresco under the stars with special Maranao dishes to the delight of everyone. An added attraction was a videoke activity that kept everyone entertained with the chance to show off their singing talents. Thank you Pakigdait CC for your beautiful presence and warm hospitality!

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.