She is one of the 1000 women proposed fort the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Peace education should be a must among schools and other institutions. It is as serious as math and science. If we do not give it equal importance, then we are not giving peace importance either.”
Myla Jabilles Leguro – Philippines
Myla Jabilles Leguro (born 1968) is the Peace and Reconciliation Program Manager of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) where she works on Muslim-Christian dialogue in war-torn Mindanao. She has been involved in peace and reconciliation projects in areas with histories of violent conflicts like Jolo and Basilan. She organized two major peace-building institutions: the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) and the Grassroots Peace Learning Center (GPLC). Through these institutions, Myla helps create peaceful communities in Mindanao. For Myla Jabilles Leguro, peace building is not a job. It is her life. As a peace advocate, she has dedicated her life to building peaceful communities in Mindanao.
Given the long history of conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government, which has caused four major displacements of communities in Central Mindanao, some people may think that her vision is impossible, if not unreal. But this young woman who has labored tirelessly organizing and managing peace building campaigns in Mindanao since she was 17 years old, has a completely different idea in mind. When asked to comment on what ordinary people call a futile aspiration, she calmly says: “It is enough for me to witness the impact of my work in the areas.”
Myla says a peace builder must believe that peace is a reality and a true peace builder should see peace building as a responsibility and a choice. One chooses to walk the path towards peace and despite knowing that the journey is long and arduous, one is compelled to build spaces of peace along the way. 1998 was a significant year for Myla because that was the year she conceived the idea of establishing a peace institute in Mindanao after she took a course in Virginia, USA, along with other Filipino delegates, at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute of the Conflict Transformation Program. Shortly thereafter, Myla organized the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI). Formally established in 2001, the MPI promotes grassroots building in the region and brings together communities for peace building training. For Myla, peace building is not just a job; it is her life. Building peace is her passion. She recognizes that the MPI demands a high degree of dedication so that “sometimes you forget yourself.” Once, when her father-in-law passed away, she continued to work even when the rest of her family was holding the wake for the old man. It is primarily her passion for helping people who are marginalized and traumatized by war that keeps her focused on MPI.
She stresses the importance of partnerships and networking with other groups in getting her work done. Myla also believes that her work is not limited to grassroots empowerment, advocacy and capacity building, but extends to developing personal relationships with the people to whom she extends help. “[This job is] challenging because you take it to heart,” she states. She says that MPI is not merely a job that she performs then forgets about after the work is accomplished. For Myla, every day is a struggle to keep a balance between her personal issues and social responsibilities. Fortunately, she is up to the challenge. While Myla is too modest to be acknowledged as the driving force behind MPI, she is cautious about any disruptions in her personal life that may affect her work.
Since 2000, MPI has trained more than 650 peace builders from Mindanao, from other places in the country and throughout Asia. As another response to the conflict in Mindanao, in 2003, Myla spearheaded the organization of Grassroots Peace Learning Center (GPLC). The GPLC is inspired by the vision of MPI and its formation is grounded on the fact that there is no single or linear approach to address the complex issues in the island. It seeks to develop lasting solutions to problems, instead of short-lived projects. It aims to strengthen positive relationships among individuals, enhance their commitment to justice and peace and promote a culture of peace by creating strong communities and institutions. Another objective of GPLC is to provide intensive training and education to individuals and organizations working on peace building and conflict transformation.
The GPLC is also promoting the enhancement of women’s participation in peace building, and this is something that Myla is most pleased with. She hopes to organize women within communities who will benefit from the livelihood projects that GPLC initiates. She is particularly interested in the participation of Moro and young Lumad women whose lives have been affected by war. Myla believes that the participation of women in peace building will hasten the development of areas identified as zones of peace. “If we tap the participation of women in the micro-level like the barangays, it will be easy for us to transform communities into spaces of peace,” she declares.
Myla stresses that women are the lifeblood of their communities. “There are different kinds of women I encounter in the field – barangay health workers, mothers, dressmakers, among others – all of them equally strong,” she says. She further adds that being a woman herself is a constant reminder to focus on the plight of women in areas of conflict. “One cannot just close one’s eyes to reality because it stares at you right in the face,” she says. As a woman peace builder, Myla says, “I have a very ordinary life. I follow a routine like most NGO workers.” Her day begins early morning when she takes care of her husband and daughter and she performs her household chores because she usually stays in her office until late at night.
“Sometimes, I spend the whole day at the office and people kid me that it is my second home,” she says. Apart from the daily routine as Peace and Reconciliation Program Manager of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Myla travels abroad regularly. She says she doesn’t mind the hard work and long hours because “peace building is more than a regular full-time job. There are lives to save, communities to transform. ”
It is difficult to imagine how this young woman can accomplish so much. Myla says, “The peace-building team acts as my own support system. We are like a family here.” When she feels emotionally drained after a going to the field, she is grateful that there are friends from the team who can help her. But surely, it is more than her team’s support that compels Myla to respond actively to the reality of Mindanao. Even when she was much younger, Myla was already concerned with social issues. She was an activist during the martial law period, even before she graduated from high school. She worked for the Citizens’ Council and Justice and Peace during and after she took up BS Agriculture in Ateneo de Davao University. In 1991, she joined Catholic Relief Services where she was the only staff member of a project for Mindanao. Undaunted, Myla pushed through with the project that was concerned with enterprise, agriculture, health and education in Mindanao.
Myla remains grounded despite her seemingly larger-than-life persona. She dreams of making GPLC into a true grassroots peace resource center. “Peace education should be a must among schools and other institutions,” she says. “It is as serious as math and sciences. If we do not give it equal importance, then we are not giving peace importance enough.” Myla is hopeful that through the GPLC, her dream will become true. She recognizes that the journey towards her dream is long and arduous, but like all roads, it will lead somewhere. And that is what counts. (Read all that on this 1000peaewomen site).
Center for Justice and Peacebuilding;