On August 15-29, 2011, I attended the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) Summer Training held in Seoul City and DMZ, South Korea. There are two other Filipinos from Mindanao, and I was the only youth participant from the Philippines. On week 1, I took the course on A Framework for Restorative Justice. There, I learned how restorative justice is very much needed in a society where punishment is seen as the only symbol of justice. Restorative justice realizes the needs of all the people involved in injustices. It realizes what issues needed to be addressed rather than what laws were broken and what punishments are deserved. Restorative justice is the kind of justice that restores the human dignity and relationships, and builds lasting peace. This is what we need in our society where history brings pain to our people. Colonizers in history are demonized rather than being humanized. We need to understand each other in order to achieve justice. After all, it is not the punishment that satisfies the needs of the victims, but merely the act of recognizing what harm has been done and what needs to be done in order to prevent future mistakes.
On the second week, I took the course on Peacebuilding Skills: Focus on Mediation. Interesting stories and exercises made me more confident on the peacebuilding work that I am doing in my own country. The course especially inspired me to become a good mediator—in spite of and despite of my own flaws and imperfections as a human being. Mediation is a pretty tough task, and yet it is a fulfilling one, as long as you are very well ready and “armed” with the proper skills.
The highlight of the training was during our Field trip. We went to the Korean De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), the border between North and South Korea. There we had a brief orientation about what the place looks like and how beautiful the creatures are that can be found in the area. The Korean DMZ is a stretch of 2 kilometers North and 2 kilometers South of the border, where no civilian can enter. We viewed the border through the use of highly technological devices. We actually saw North Korean soldiers on duty. With this, we know that the North Korean soldiers are also perhaps looking at us that very moment. It seemed very peaceful. The Korean war created a rich ecological environment where plants and animals interact harmoniously with each other, without fear of being exploited by human beings.
The de-militarized zone is currently flourishing as a symbol of peace. It is ironic how a war can create such a peaceful and rich environment. It is ironic how such a rich nature can no longer be witnessed by human beings because they are not allowed to. It is ironic how there seems to be peace in an area that is in the middle of two conflicting lands.
While I was standing there, 2 kilometers away from North Korea, I cannot help but cry. I cannot help but think how much money, energy, time, and life has been spent just to protect this border. I cannot help but feel for the soldiers who do nothing but to make sure that no North Koreans will cross that border. I cannot help but realize how much resources are wasted because of war. How we tend to create a synthetically peaceful environment, and yet the citizens of these two countries could not even see and greet each other as people with the same ancestors, same language, and same culture.
Near the border of North and South Korea, I realized that we, human beings, also tend to limit ourselves with borders. As human beings created for unique purposes and called for different tasks, we tend to create borders that seem peaceful, and yet, in reality, is actually a symbol of inner struggle and discomfort. As a peacebuilder, I sometimes limit myself and my capabilities with borders. I tend to stay in places where I am comfortable at. I tend to be with people whom I am comfortable with. I tend to do things that I am comfortable doing. And yet, these borders do not make me peaceful at all. Near the Korean border, I realized that real and lasting peace must be without borders. Real peace transcends differences, cultures, languages, and preferences. The DMZ experience convicted me to transcend fear. It made me braver and realize that peacebuilding should not be limited with comfort borders. If I am called to build peace anywhere, then I should go. Peace without borders requires peacebuilding beyond borders.