(16 April 2018 on the Occasion of the Madaris Volunteer Program Batch 3 Culmination Night)
Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and president of the Ateneo de Davao University, Dr. Ombra Imam, president of National Association for Bangsamoro Education, Inc., to our partners here in the Ateneo, the Al Qalam Institute, Arrupe Office of Social Formation, and the School of Education, administrators, peacemakers, friends, and most especially our dear madaris volunteers, God’s peace and blessings to all of you. Assalamu alaikum.
Five years ago, and I can still remember that day with clarity, Fr. Joel, Datu Muss, and Dr. Imam (and myself merely witnessing the occasion) met with Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, MILF Chair, to discuss the possibility of a volunteer-teaching program in the Bangsamoro, specifically in Islamic schools, or madaris. It was Good Friday of 2014, at 3:00pm, when we met him. In the Catholic tradition, as you may know, Jesus died at 3:00pm, and commemorated on Good Friday. I remember thinking to myself that day, “what a horrible day to have a meeting.” It was the start of summer season, in Maguindanao (you know how hot that means), it was supposedly the Holy Week holidays, and there I was in a meeting. All the while, I was also harboring a secret fear, a trepidation to meet the Kagi Murad, in the Camp Darapanan, stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
We finally entered this meeting room with oversized wooden sofas facing each other, and Kagi Murad came in with this warm smile. After courtesies were exchanged, Fr. Joel talked about Bangsamoro history, talked about the injustices to the Moro people with all sincerity and compassion, but he also shared a new hope, a “jihad for education” that Kagi Murad himself talked about when NABEI was launched earlier that year. Kagi Murad and Fr. Joel had a lively conversation after that introduction and Murad accepted a proposal for intervention in the education sector. The meeting ended with group pictures, selfies, but also with a lightness in our hearts that must have been hope. On our way back to Cotabato, it was around 5:00 in the afternoon, I thought to myself, “maybe Easter came soon this year.”
I told you that story because it’s always good to start where it begins. The Madaris Volunteer Program begun in hope and in optimism. But I also told you that story because it’s been 5 years from the inception of the program, to this culmination of our 3rd batch of volunteers. And often when we look back, we say “where have all the years gone?” Where do the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years go when they’re done with their moments? And when I look back now, it feels like it was only yesterday when we were in Camp Darapanan on a Good Friday, it feels like only yesterday when we had this daily drama in the MVP office, it feels like only yesterday when our Madaris Volunteers were complaining because of a delayed allowance. Today our motto in the MVP is “Changing the Odds through the Madaris Volunteers,” yet during its first and second year it felt more like “MVP Against All Odds.” During our first 2 years of implementation, we faced many challenges – political, cultural, personal. But we overcame these challenges and we’re still working to improve the program to better serve our communities.
Where have all the sands of time gone? I’d like to think that in the Madaris Volunteer Program, they become encounters that change lives, experience that mold us as human persons, and memories that will nourish us during our spiritual famines. “Lost time” is never really lost when we spend it in genuine joy and selfless service.
As we celebrate tonight the volunteer service of the Madaris Volunteers, I would like to thank Fr. Joel for making this program a reality, for nourishing this new hope. Dr. Imam for bridging friendships that cuts across faiths and cultures. Our partners here in the Ateneo, Al Qalam, Arrupe, SOE, and from other offices, departments and centers, for truly supporting an endeavor that inspires and changes lives not just in the Bangsamoro but in the country. To the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and the Private Educational Assistance Committee, thank you. To our dedicated MVP coordinators, there is still so much to be done but tonight we celebrate another year of “peacebuilding through education and peacebuilding through friendship.”
And to our volunteers who have exhibited tremendous sab’r (patience), compassion, courage, love, and dedication… Maraming salamat. Shukran for your gift of self. May you always remember your time with the communities and the program, with a smile on your face, and a lightness in your heart that is Hope.
Thank you and wasallam.