Last update: 2022-04-22 09:45:43

As much as groups, different in culture and religion, may continue to clash in Mindanao, a place where I am right now, as well as in other parts of the world, and even though mutual prejudices between Christians and Muslims may rise, some Christian and Muslim farmers who live in the mountains around beautiful Zamboanga have joined hands to form an organisation called the United Farmers of Silsilah or Silsilah Bayanihan de Sembradores. Many Oasis readers already know about Silsilah in the Philippines, a movement that promotes dialogue, especially between Christians and Muslims, and inspires a form of spirituality of life that is based on a dialogue with God, oneself, others as well as creation. Some years ago we began an experience among peasants living on the slopes of the Zamboanga Mountains, inspired by such forms of dialogue, especially the one with creation. In this milieu because of their connection to the land and their passion for it, farmers in their daily life and work play a major role in communicating to the whole of society the importance of a relationship to nature and creation that is both respectful and open to them. Nowadays climate change and environmental disasters in various parts of the world have triggered alarm bells that governments and organisations are actually heeding in order to find solutions. For Silsilah respect for nature is an essential part of human spirituality; it is also part and parcel of any effort to build dialogue with others. Despite a tense situation we in Zamboanga are actively involved in trying to free Eugenio Vagni, two International Red Cross workers and others who have been abducted. We also have had positive experiences that we can share with others, most notably experiences by farmers which the Silsilah movement has organised in the Baluni area, near Zamboanga City. Here Christian and Muslim farmers are involved in spiritual and vocational education; their work together has allowed them to improve their knowledge of some technical and labour methods but also enabled them to share views and opinions at a personal and at a communal level. For example, farmers have been convinced to use natural, non-chemical fertilisers in farming. They have also been encouraged to work together. With Silsilah's help they have set up a cooperative that allows them to combine forces and share profits and are now using bio-dynamic farming methods. They are also sharing their knowledge with others and are offering vocational courses to other farmers and groups in schools and universities. Facing off mining companies that want to develop mineral-rich areas is one of the great challenges that these farmers have to confront. In order to keep corporate interests at bay we and farmers have drawn a line in the sand; the choice is "either minerals or water." Fortunately, the forests of this area are protected because they provide Zamboanga City and surrounding areas with their water. With our help these farmers are also able to get their message across to the media and through a petition signed by thousands of locals whom we call 'Friends of Water Protection' have raised awareness about what is at stake with the central government in Manila Among their many experiences the 'Escuela de Sembradores' fills farmers with hope. Launched by Silsilah in the Baluni area this school is a place of hope and sharing. Last 28 December it welcomed farmers for the first time for their own Farmers' Festival, known locally as the 'Festival de Sembradores'. More than 300 of us came, including representative Isabelle Climaco, who represents the area in Congress. The 'Festival de Sembradores' also gave us an opportunity to thank the Lord for the goods of the earth He provided us this year. It also allowed farmers to build up their friendship. It is always moving to see ordinary people like farmers celebrate and enjoy things together, Muslims and Christians, singing, dancing and playing. And as we try to nurture and share such a ray of light and hope with others in the world who may see this example set by ordinary people as a path to follow, we are also confirmed in our conviction that they too may still have a future.