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Reflections on the International Leadership Conference in Mindanao

My decision to attend the International Leadership Conference in Mindanao, Philippines, March 29-31, 2012, was not taken lightly. As I called up to the heavens for answers, what impressed my way of thinking was that what my NGO, Wahine Maori of Queensland Inc., had received from the Australian Federal Government was to be used to attend any conference or seminar that would encourage international dialogue for the benefit of our principal purpose:

‘To promote understanding of universal values in spiritual traditions and arts of movable cultural heritage with intrinsic values and applying these concepts in cross cultural diversity using the metaphor of the rainbow as a way of understanding. Emphasis is on the role of cross-cultural liaisons and mediation, and that these processes need to be integral components of humanitarian aid and help to alleviate poverty and create sustainable programs in health, education and housing.’

Due to late travel arrangements, my flight was from Brisbane to Singapore (with a stopover of 13 hours) then onto Davao, the largest city in Mindanao. As the only Australian attending the conference, I felt as if I was stepping out of my comfort zone and preparing to cross borders and weave a tapestry made in the heavens by all nationalities of all colours.

Meeting various indigenous Ambassadors for Peace, I felt that God had singled out the ones that I needed to meet and the ones that he had brought into my path so that we can assist each other for the future of the poorest of the poor.

My first encounter was with Recto and Josefa Labrador, a very humble Filipino couple with hearts ready to serve our God in whatever form. They have a feeding program for 150 street kids in Butuan City, and as I listened hard to their desires I felt inspired to consider their request to build an orphanage and little school for their ‘little angels.’ The faith of Recto and Josefa is quite amazing as they wait patiently for the heavens to open up each day and guide them to where they can obtain free food, be it from restaurants, McDonalds, begging, or receiving monies from complete strangers. I learned more from Recto and Josefa than I have ever learned through the corporate world, and I felt that this meeting was not accidental.

My next eternal friend was Rahman Ali Jawed from Afghanistan, a human rights activist. Rahman really touched my heart. We talked about his Mongolian bloodline through his mother. As he spoke to me in earnest, I felt the Wairau (Holy Ghost) prompt me that here is another project for my foundation to consider. His dream is to build a Peace Center adjacent to a school; in his words, the children and youth of Afghanistan do not understand peace anymore; they are confused and bewildered with the nation’s activities of war! The children need to be re-taught about peace and love. By time the conference had ended, my feelings for Rahman had extended to true family love and belonging.

When Dr. Thomas G. Walsh was announced, I was curious about this leader. He delivered his messages smoothly and with calm and humility. I must admit I was impressed to see a pakeha (white man) in a most distinguished position with the UPF, and I was not disappointed.

The arrival of Mr. Kook Jin Moon created a great deal of excitement. This son of UPF Founder Father Sun Myung Moon coming to speak to us created excitement in my old soul, so I prepared myself mentally and spiritually to receive his message. As he walked into the room I felt his father walking in with him, and I also felt the world on his young shoulders. His humbleness impressed me to the extent that I could no longer bind my tears. His graduation from Harvard University rang in my ears, as I am studying in humbleness myself for a degree at Griffith University. The message from his father was simple: ‘Be strong as leaders! Let’s create the alliance of free democratic nations to protect world peace.’ I see the indigenous worldwide being touched by this simple faith and dedication, and one day this young leader will assemble the House of Tribes from the North to the South, the East to the West in the name of our Father in Heaven.

Another Ambassador for Peace who impressed my way of thinking was Professor Zhang Quanyi from China, an Associate Professor at the School of Culture and Communication of Zhejiang Wasli University and Researcher at the Center of Non-Traditional Security and Peaceful Development Studies. Our dialogue focused on the needs of China, and he pointed out that a general hospital is required to provide free health care to the poor. Professor Zhang Quanyi mentioned that he lectures worldwide on philosophy, and I could not help but feel that his ancestral links are from the great Confucius. Further dialogue will take place in the near future to see if my foundation can be of assistance.

There were interesting presentations throughout the conference, and although at times it was difficult to understand speakers through their lack of knowledge of the English language, I felt out of respect that it was time for people of the western world to become more humble and understanding.

I would like in particular to mention Major General Jorge Segovia, Commander of the 10th Infantry Division in the Philippines. His presentation struck a chord within my heart, because I could relate it to my own homeland of New Zealand and compare the problems of the youth in the Philippines to the youth of New Zealand who have resorted to radical gangs. He gave a glimpse of the close family ties and extended families in the Filipino community, emphasizing that Filipinos are religious and peace-loving people. However, the Communist Party of the Philippines is seeking to destroy family bonds, discredit religion and belief in God, and incite mass uprisings. He described how the military is helping educate youth about God-centered families, and 3,000 youth have graduated from their program and returned to their families and communities. As this brave leader spoke, I sensed a peaceful transformation in the military in the Philippines and am considering consider how we can be stakeholders. To support this program from Australia and New Zealand could demonstrate a role model for most indigenous nations, who are suffering the same as the Philippines.

A meeting with City Councillor Mercy Fernandez from Dapitan over breakfast was about my foundation considering helping the poor women in her city. She talked about the women selling themselves for a mere 50 cents a night to obtain money to buy food. Her NGO is trying to push their One Barangay One Product program, which engages women in local communities making woven bags, rugs, delicacies, handicrafts from bamboo, sea shells and grass, extra virgin cocoa oil, etc. Mercy is seeking a shelter or home for the abused women and children.

March 31, our last day, was the Interfaith Peace Blessing Festival, the Inaugural Assembly of Mindanao Peace Initiative, Closing Banquet of the International Leadership Conference, and Launching of UPF-Mindanao Chapters. My little group of Filipino friends insisted that I have the front seat on the bus so that I could see everything on our five-hour trip to the site in Sultan Kudarat. I noted that Filipino leaders who lived offshore returned to their homeland to give their support. It always makes me tearful when I see this, because it reminds me as an indigenous person how powerful the land is in calling us home, or should I say how powerful our ancestors are under the directions of our beloved Father in Heaven. I noted the military escort and was told that this was a hot spot and the government was providing protection to the international visitors. Needless to say, I felt a little perturbed and said prayers that we would all be protected.

On arrival it was hot! There were people everywhere, and I believe the count was 36,000 people in attendance. When I was a little girl, I remember my Father (the paramount chief of Ngati Kahungunu, an indigenous group in New Zealand) blessing our people, and he invited people of all religions to step forward. I remember this with endearment, so I felt the Blessing would tie everything up as a clear cultural and spiritual happening for this day. Sadly, the heat affected me, and I struggled to sit in the gymnasium without fainting.

As I witnessed the Muslims and the Christians signing the Peace Agreement, it brought to me the full realization that peace can be attained if we all work with strength to dialogue with each other. To be present for this historical moment, knowing that this Peace Agreement was passed by Parliament (2011) and that UPF chapters were being launched in 37 cities in Mindanao, was a strong motivation to want to do more as an Ambassador for Peace.

As I end my reflections, my personal testimony is that my NGO, Wahine Maori of Queensland Inc., will continue to promote a culture of peace throughout the world and be present at UPF international conferences as a voice for my Maori people of New Zealand and Australia. To encourage peaceful dialogue with my brothers and sisters of all indigenous nations is certainly the prayer on my heart.