Christian, Muslim youth compete in peace

Marc Anthony Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The instruction was to say the name of your teammate before dishing out a pass to him.
That way, Rahib Pananggulon, 12, of Datu Piang could establish eye contact and open a line of communication with Melfred Dumapig, 15, of Pagangan, Aleosan, while playing basketball.
Later, the coach helped them break down plays while a guidance counselor processed the day’s activities and correlated them to their respective lives as a Muslim and a Christian youth.
Trust your brother to take possession of the ball and maybe, just maybe, it would spark a flicker of teamwork in one part of Mindanao.
That was clearly the aim of a five-day sports camp for some 300 Muslim and Christian children displaced by the conflict between government forces and rogue MILF elements in central Mindanao.
The kids converged on Notre Dame Midsayap College to learn the basics of basketball, softball and volleyball. At the same time, guidance counselors helped them deal with the trauma of life in a war zone.
“It was very challenging and touching for us because these children were victims of war,” said principal Melania Lapinid.
“Because of sports, they became closer to one another,” said Fr. Pete Lamata.
Lamata and Lapinid helped the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) conduct the Mindanao Sports for Peace project that ran from Oct. 16 to 20.
Uniforms, shoes and sports equipment were provided each of the participants who were screened from 12,000 children in evacuation centers in Pikit, Datu Piang, Aleosan and Kabuntalan towns.
“These were not ordinary kids,” said Philippine Center for Sports Medicine psychologist Karen Trinidad. “These were kids who were exposed to violence, they needed intervention to help them cope with what they were experiencing.”
Friends from other tribes
In the counseling, the kids were not asked to talk about their experiences of losing their families and homes to the war. The counselors gave them time to fully comprehend their plight, said Trinidad.
The ravages of war are hard enough for adults to digest, what more for these adolescent minds, she said.
“We’re very happy, sir, we learned a sport and the trauma we experienced seemed to go away. We also made friends from other tribes,” said Dumapig in Filipino.
Balls not bullets
About 60 percent of the participants were Muslim, according to PSC chair Butch Ramirez who handled the basketball clinic.
“I thought all Christians were the enemies of Muslims, because I’m Muslim. It’s not so. Some people are just mistaken,” said Pananggulon, also in Filipino.
The clinics were held in the first three days, while tournaments were held at the end. Ramirez said the teams in all the three sports were formed in such a way that Muslims and Christians played together.
He brought a 15-man team from the PSC’s Manila office to conduct the project which had for its theme “Bola hindi Bala” (Balls not Bullets).
Land disputes, poverty
“When you think about it, it’s not religion that caused the war. It’s land disputes and poverty. In our own small way, we want to help make it a better place for these children,” said Ramirez, who hails from Davao.
Some of kids, he said, wrapped their shoes in plastic after each clinic. For many of them, it was their first pair of shoes, he said.
The hard part, Trinidad said, came when it was time to part ways.
“We knew where they were going after the clinic was over, which was back to the evacuation centers,” said Trinidad,
“That’s why when the trucks came to pick them up, some of them were clutching at our sleeves because they wanted to stay,” she said.
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