On Friday, September 17, 2010 Gareth Porter and Sonja Tammen, representatives from Northern Ireland peace organizations HURT and Corrymeela, respectively, joined with representatives of the Mindanao Peaceweavers, including staff from Initiatives for International Dialogue and Catholic Relief Services, and Juju Tan from the development organization VSO Bahaginan, to promote and participate in cross-cultural exchanges regarding best practices in peacebuilding.

The exchange began with an explanation of the structure and work of the Mindanao Peaceweavers, notably including publication of the Mindanao People’s Peace Agenda. Ms. Tammen, impressed with this work, congratulated MPW on their ability to maintain a network of networks working for peace. She noted it is not easy to keep so many differing opinions and views working together as a whole, but that this sort of networking is crucial for peacebuilding.

During the exchange participants noted the similarities between the conflict in Northern Ireland and Mindanao. While both conflicts center on issues around land and resources, ethnicity and religion have played a large role in the violence as markers of the two conflicting parties. Therefore, in Northern Ireland peacebuilders must work to foster reconciliation and friendship among Catholics and Protestants, just as the Mindanao Peaceweavers have been promoting the same among the tri-people of Mindanao.

The importance of cross-cultural understanding and exchange was a thread connecting the whole discussion. Ms. Tammen and Mr. Porter spoke of the need to use culture as a tool for healing, and that in doing so such intercultural exchanges can “humanize the other.” Many participants felt that in conflict settings those affected by violence are often in need of someone who can relate to their experience or listen to their story.

Participants noted that intercultural exchange can be difficult, however, and may often need extensive preparation work in the form of helping participants understand their own culture, religion, and identity first. Participants also discussed the many tools available to foster intercultural exchange, including modern technology and different methods, such as the open space method or storytelling.

This Northern Ireland-Mindanao cross-cultural exchange ended with messages of hope. Mr. Porter reminded the Mindanao representatives that many in Northern Ireland did not believe a sustainable peace was possible until the moment it happened, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland still faces many challenges, including a recent rise in domestic violence. Mindanao representatives felt hopeful that a lasting peace can be achieved in Mindanao but noted that the new administration will have to sincerely dedicate itself to peace. (IID)