RealLife by Dolly Palisada
published: March 2011
Zamboanga City – “That wars are fought by the young for the old is a universally known truth,” wrote Lindsay Clark.
The history of child-soldiers can be traced in 480 B.C. The Spartan warriors were selected at birth. When a baby boy was born, soldiers came to the house and test his strength by means of bathing him in wine rather than in water. Weak babies were thrown off the cliff. By age 7, soldiers took the stronger boys, housed them in a dormitory together with other boys: they endured harsh physical, mental and emotional discipline; marched without shoes and went without food for days. They learned to fight, endure pain and expected to survive the grueling system of education called ugoge. They learned to live and think like animals. Self-denial is the warrior’s code; loyalty to the city-state governed their lives.
Which leaves us wondering, are the child-soldiers in Mindanao and the mountain ranges of Cordilleras were trained the same way?
Mindanao Child warrior
|Photo courtesy of www.krislibrary.com|
We conjured up a child- soldier as a 17 year old African boy clutching a machine gun or a 15 year old Muslim boy in Iraq or Afghanistan strapped by a bomb and muttering prayers. But in Mindanao, a 12 year old boy can be a deadly spy for a kidnap for ransom group or an extremist indoctrinated in violence and war ready to kill a throng of military men.
Unlike in Ancient Greece or other Muslim countries where dominion is the aspiration in waging wars, the present day child-soldiers in Mindanao thrive because of poverty and lack of education. “Poverty breeds contempt and criminality; Illiteracy breeds bias and lack of work,” Armand Dean Nocum said.
|Manikahan Brgy. Hall|
About 20 kilometers away from Zamboanga City proper on the East Coast sits Manicahan— a coastal barangay along the coastal highway with at least 1,800 hectares in land area. Its two kilometers shoreline is famous for its pink powdery sand. As of May 1, 2000 the National Statistics Office (NSO) recorded a total population of 7,702 with only 1,470 households. It is bounded by Barangays Lapakan on the West, Victoria on the North, Cabaluay on the South and the Islands of Sacol, Tumalutab and Manalipa on the East. Sacol Island for the most part is the reason why kidnapping is rife in Manicahan. Its proximity to the mainland is about a mile away and a known lair for the Abu Sayyaf extremist group. It is said that kidnap victims were taken by boat to Sacol: women were raped or men were killed if the family does not heed the demands of the captors.
On the other hand, Zamboanga City, the Latin City of Asia is only an hour and 30 minutes away by plane from Manila and approximately 45 hours by boat. Then again, government projects and opportunities failed to fall on its lap triggering the rise of kidnapping as livelihood project for some. Christians are the target victims, especially those who present a rather progressive standing in the locality such as the OFWs, teachers, nurses or retired government employees. “Pantawid gutom” is much more appropriate a word to describe the proliferating illegal activity because a demand of five thousand pesos is certainly ordinary.
The Nocum Legacy
|Armand Dean Nocum as photograph by her daughter Arizza|
Together with his Muslim wife Annora, A-Book-Saya Group was realized in 2006. Its advocacy is called “Books for Guns”. Armand reveals, “With our ABSG advocacy, we're out to rescue poor kids from the jaws of terrorism and criminality in Southern Philippines. Help us stop the rise of 12-year-old child warriors. We want these kids to pick up books, not guns.”
Initially, the husband and wife team started out distributing second hand books to various schools in Zamboanga City. But the exercise gathered little result and they decided to give out directly to students. As donations came pouring in, the Nocums thought of building a library where Muslim and Christian students alike share common interest in reading without prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Through donations from the private sectors in Metro Manila, Davao and other parts of the country, from prominent political names such as Jovito Salonga and Roilo Golez—the library building finally stood still in the middle of Barangay Manicahan, the birth place of Armand Dean Nocum.
|Books for Guns project|
For the Love of Books and Reading
|a haven of muslim and christian students alike|
Armand grew up witnessing war in the ‘70s between the military and MNLF. Foxhole under his home was his temporary shelter as Tora Tora planes crisscrossing the sky. His late father Armando, the Barangay Captain then aided in the war to protect their place and its people against the radical group. On a normal day, his common toys were empty ammo shells while the wall of their house rests long barreled guns and other warfare trappings.
“Growing up in a place tattered by war is not easy”, Armand revealed.
|inside the Kris Library|
It is for the love of it that he eventually came up with the idea of saving one would-be-child-soldier at a time as preventive measure by exposing them to reading books. “If we can stop one would- be- bomber of MRT-LRT, then Mindanao has broken the cycle of evil,” Armand said.
Every time his phone rings, he would ask himself: will this be my day? Armand fears for the life of his 65 year-old mother who’s taking charge of the Peace Library. The mother, a retired school principal is, according to Armand--“kidnapable.” Not too long ago, his mother received a “love letter” from a kidnap for ransom group demanding for her retirement money but the only reason why she’s still unharmed is that some gang members were her former students. To this day, Armand continues to rely on his belief that good karma could save his relatives who become sitting ducks in their own homeland.
Reading for Peace
|reading materials donated to Kris Library from |
Auntie Dolly Bordner
The Kris Library has recorded 50,000 visits from students, teachers and parents since they opened in April 2009. The library is now “home” to students who finally found a better alternative to hopelessness. It houses thousands of books, computers, photo copier and livelihood room for parents. It opens at 8 in the morning until 6 at night. Volunteers are older students who assist the younger ones how to use the computer or teach them to read. This March marks the first batch of the Nocum scholars to proceed to college in June. The effect of the library can be attributed to the improved self confidence of the students—their high marks and their drive to study more. “When you see Christian and Muslim students sitting beside each other in the library-- reading and studying in peace, I know that I’ve done something right,” Armand said with a smile.
Opportunity and tolerance
Annora Nocum’s endless wish for the Muslim young ones is to make it their way of life to read books and see opportunities outside of Mindanao and to use these opportunities to find better ways to improve the lives of their families. “If one is educated, one has tolerance for other people’s religion, belief and culture,” Annora opined.
Armand for his part revealed, “I don’t make pretentions of being good, but has constant effort to do good to correct past sins. Life is a constant effort to be better as a person and as a Filipino citizen.”
Now it can be told, Armand and the people behind the Peace Library are indeed shaping the lives of a child every time they flip a page of a book. Books for Guns Project was one of the 2010 winners of Smart Communications’ Tipid-Sulit Idol Search, a program that aims to support groups and individuals who make an impact in their communities. Indeed, Baynihan lives on. Armand is grateful for the continuing effort of donors who help him sustain the library.
References: http://www.sattisfaction.blogspot.com/; Z-Wiki; Ancient Greece, HistoryWiz and special mention to Mr. Alfie Smith who has a heart of a Filipino: sa isip, sa diwa at sa gawa. Many thanks.
|with Car-car volunteering for Kris Library|
You too can be part of the Kris Blessings, please join us now and be a Robin Book volunteer by clicking http://www.krislibrary.com