We are currently living inside a dying painting that was long before alive as intensifying tints of peace and harmony thrived on its canvas. Mindanaoans are painted on this canvas where colors are slowly fading away as darkness takes over the tiniest shade of hope. Darker and darker tints lurk within the shadows of our society as gunshots and bullets became the newest definition of dialogue and where the air we breathe are shades darker. Armed conflicts, disruption of natural biodiversity and depleting ozone–they’re few of the words that scream a horrifying narrative of how the degradation of society are slowly killing the painting we’re living on. The clock ticks and the calendar flips but it was never too late to stop the darkness from taking away the thriving colors we once saw in the painting we call Mindanao. The opacity of the shades of hope are reaching to the negative scale, but the Philippine Youth Leadership Program taught me how to paint shades of hope with the tints of responsibility and the spirit of leadership.
A peace camper turned into a simple Youth Solidarity for Peace volunteer and an environmental activist in a small body–this is probably the best painting of mine before the Philippine Youth Leadership Program happened to me. But, as I wore a clothing that represented my tribe and my country in the United States of America last April 2017, I knew that my painting of a simple volunteer and an environmental activist is starting to be a painting of “a catalyst of change”. I never imagined how my firing passion for peace and environmental preservation brought me to the Land of the Free, the United States of America. My one month stay in the US paved way for me to remove the blindfolds that hid the kaleidoscopic beauty of Mindanao from my eyes. We were immersed in workshops and activities that clarified the sketchy portrait of how much Mindanao’s tints of hope are slowly being dimmed by the unending threats of terrorism. We were slapped by the harsh truth of how Mindanao’s color is fading away because of showers of bullets and irresponsible human activities that made our nature scream and beg for help. It was just funny how American people sees the deeper picture of what’s happening in Mindanao but me, a Filipino, failed to do so.
In terms of cultural immersion, footprint imprinting to different historical places made me appreciate the truest beauty of the Philippines that hid underneath the shades of negativity. For every step that I took, stories of the past kept on sketching in my mind as if I was there. We met people of various origins that told stories of how different cultures are interwoven through their differences. That time, I realized how cultural differences may intensify the values of love, acceptance and equality that are indelible parts of creating colors of unity that we’ve been yearning for. When I saw how a nation can be kaleidoscopic with diversity, I started asking questions like, “Why do our differences became the reason for us to be divided just like how we put different colors of paints in different holes in our palettes for them not to mix with each other?”
The Philippine Youth Leadership Program isn’t just a normal one-month trip to the United States of America. It wasn’t just a tour and a fun-filled immersion but rather served as a microscope that gave me a clearer version of how a painting that was once before thriving with colors is slowly fading away. After a month of stepping to the Land of the Free, I’ve flew 8,222 miles back to the Pearl of the Orient Sea, the Philippines. I have returned home equipped with paints of knowledge and tints of hope. And from a simple volunteer of the Youth Solidarity for Peace, I have now become a painter of hope. Now, I am now ready to repaint a dying Obra Maestra we call the Mindanao.
About the writer: Amina Shayne Baginda Halil is a Senior High School student under the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics Strand. Amina is also a a volunteer of PAZ under the Youth Solidarity For Peace (YSP).