Sulu youth leaders learn about diversity, unity in Malaysia trip

Carol RH Malasig

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Sulu youth leaders learn about diversity, unity in Malaysia trip
The Armed Forces of the Philippines brings 50 youth leaders from Sulu to Malaysia to teach them about living in a multi-cultural society

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Sixteen-year-olds Al-Fatima Tudzjahara Malik and Babylyn Nisal are in Malaysia for their first trip abroad. They are from the province of Sulu and became fast friends through a youth organization in their area that aims to promote unity and harmony in the region.

Sa Young Leaders of Sulu (YLS) po, gumagawa kami ng mga project at outreach program para po sa mga kagaya namin na youth na makakatulong sa kanila,” Al-Fatima said.

(Through the Young Leaders of Sulu, we do projects and outreach programs to help our fellow youth)

Gumagawa kami ng presentation at lecture para makatulong na huwag silang sumali sa grupo na gumagawa ng masasamang gawain. Kinukumbinsi namin sila na imbes na sumama sa masamang gawain, sinasabi namin na sumali na lang sila sa YLS,” Babylyn added.

(We make presentations and do lectures to help them stay away from extremist groups. We convince them to just join the YLS.)

Al-Fatima and Babylyn were among the chosen delegates to go for the first ever Muslim Filipino Youth Leaders’ Educational Tour in Malaysia, a project of the civil-military operations office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Fifty youth leaders from Sulu were able to see how Malaysians, despite being of different race and religion, are able to co-exist peacefully.

The delegation, led by Western Mindanao Command Deputy Commander Brigadier General Jose Cabanban, arrived on a Philippine Air Force C-130 plane and were welcomed at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang by Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya along with embassy officers and staff.

“This innovative program is an opportunity for our Muslim youth to experience a multi-cultural society. Through interactions with their peers and exposure to other faiths and traditions, they can further imbibe the values of moderation, tolerance and acceptance of others,” Malaya said.

“We hope that the participants would have a good experience and would share this to their fellow youth back home,” he added.

INTERACTIVE LEARNING. Third Secretary and Vice Consul Alvin Malasig tells the Sulu Youth about their Muslim brothers and sisters living in Sabah. Photo provided from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The delegation was welcomed at the embassy, where they performed traditional Filipino-Muslim songs and dances for the consular clients, then attended a lecture on the situation of Filipinos in Sabah.

They also went to the Malaysian Parliament Dewan Rakyat (Malaysian Parliament), where Dewan Speaker Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Pandikar Amin bin Haji Mulia gave an inspirational talk. Tan Sri Pandikar is actually an ethnic Iranun from Mindanao who grew up in Sabah.

CULTURAL PERFORMANCE. Sulu Youth Leaders perform a traditional dance at the consular section of the Philippine Embassy, much to the delight of Filipinos applying for passports and other consular services. Photo from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur

The delegation also visited the Global Movement of Moderates and the International Islamic University of Malaysia to get to know more about moderation in Islamic practices.

Al-Fatima and Babylyn say that getting to know locals made them feel a lot more similar to their Malaysian brothers and sisters. 

Kasi po kami, okay lang sa amin makipaghalubilo sa iba. Wala namang mali. Tinuruan po kasi kami na hindi por que hindi mo siya kalahi o karelihyon, ija-judge mo siya agad. Tinuturuan po kasi kami sa YLS na maging united,” Al-Fatima said.

(For us, it’s perfectly fine to meet and mingle with people from different religions and backgrounds. There’s nothing wrong. We’re taught that just because someone doesn’t have the same religion or race as you, doesn’t mean you can judge them. We’re also taught at YLS to be united.)

Kahit iba iba ang God ng tao, as long as gumagawa ka ng mabuti, ibbless ka pa rin ni God (Even if someone’s God is different, as long as they do good, God will still bless them),” she added.

According to Babylyn, meeting their fellow Muslims in Malaysia gave them even more motivation in their work to change the perception about Muslims in Sulu.

Iniisip lagi ng mga tao na yung mga taga Sulu ay mga ‘war freak’. Nakakalungkot pero sinusubukan namin i-accept ang reality. As part ng YLS, unti-unti kami gumagawa ng paraan para maiba yung perception nila. Nalalahat po kasi kami. Dahil may isang taong gumawa ng masama, nilalahat na kami. Hindi rin naman po araw araw may gulo sa amin,” she said.

(People always think that people from Sulu are war freaks. It’s sad but we try to accept the reality. As part of YLS, we are trying to change the perception of others. We’re being lumped with extremist groups. It’s not everyday there’s a war in our area.)

Apektado po kami dahil sa ginagawa ng mga masamang grupo tapos ginagamit ang pangalan ng relihyon namin. Kinahihiya po namin sila,” Al-Fatima added. “Kapag may balita po ng kidnapping, naalarma po kami. ‘Yung mga magulang namin minsan, sasabihin kami na huwag nang pumasok. Sayang lang din po kasi ‘yung mga estudyante gusto pumasok, kahit umuulan pumapasok kami,” she said.

(We’re affected by what extremist groups in our area do. We’re so ashamed of them. Every time there’s news of a kidnapping, we’re all alarmed. Our parents would even tell us not to go to school out of worry. It’s sad, though because the students like going to school. Even when it rains, we always go.)

LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER. Members of the delegation pose in front of the Batu Caves after a tour conducted by students of Brickfields Asia College. Photo by Carol Ramoran

Al-Fatima added that they are not so different compared to other 16-year-old Filipinos living in other parts of the country. She admits to reading Harry Potter and that she enjoys her time hanging out with her friends. 

The youth leaders also went to Hindu religious site Batu Caves, where students from the Brickfields Asia College, led by Make It Right Movement Head of Partnerships Thanabalasingam Balakrishnan, took them on a tour and explained Indian culture and lore to them. 

A visit to a Chinese temple also gave them insight to Buddhism. They also did Friday prayers at the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya and went on a tour of the KL City Centre.

On their last day, the embassy also hosted a traditional Muslim Filipino dinner for the delegates, where they donned their traditional costumes once more and did their prayers in the Vista Hall.

TRADITION. Cabanban and Ambassador Eduardo Malaya join the youth delegates on the carpeted floor for a traditional Muslim Filipino meal with the delegates. Photo by Carol Ramoran

Cabanban said hopefully, this will not be the last time they get to bring youth from Mindanao to see different and more tolerant environments as this will help shape their minds and prevent them from joining extremist groups in Southern Philippines.

Al-Fatima says she wants to be a doctor but is also toying with the idea of joining the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy while Babylyn is thinking of becoming an accountant like her aunt.

They say it would take a while, but they hope people will stop seeing them differently. Until it happens, they can only hope for the best. –

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