Born and raised in Manila, and now hails from Zamboanga City, Philippines, he has come a long way of beating the odds, conquering the impossible and creating his own pathway to be one of Mindanao’s peacebuilders in his generation. Meet and get to know the inspiring story of Jaime Salva, EAI-Philippines’ First Olive Peace Prize Awardee.
From the Olive Peace Prize Awardee
“When I was a kid, I used to get jealous with children roaming around and hanging out with their parents. I tend to stare at this kind of moment, a moment of love and family bonding. I could still remember that I would light a candle, kneel at church and solemnly pray to God, asking Him to make my family complete and happy even just for a day.
My mom once taught me that the prayer of a birthday celebrant is most acceptable. I would cry in tears during those days. Even when I reached in college, I would still go to church, light a candle, and make the same prayer I used to recite. In my younger years, I used to go to Sunday School, learn stories about the Prophets, on values formation, on teachings of the Bible, and attend Sunday masses. From there, I learned to rely my woes and cries to God in prayers.
When I was in 5th grade until high school, I used to work as a helper for me to finish school. Yet it seemed ironic because I belong to a wealthy family. Dad was a rich person. We used to live in a big and comfortable house. I got everything I wanted as a kid, but we were not that happy. My dad became a drunkard and womanizer. Every time he comes home drunk, he would beat my mom so badly. He would bring strangers home and often kick us out of the house. My younger brother and I would spend the night on the streets.
Come college years, my dad messaged me and asked if I wanted to study. He said he would support me. Despite all the sufferings and challenges experienced, I immediately said yes! Both my parents are from Mindanao and I thought of going to the country’s south island with the mindset of changing my life for good. I was doing great during my first year in college, even excelled and earned awards. However, everything changed when I accepted Islam. My father stopped supporting and communicating with me. I stopped going to school because my money was not enough to sustain my needs. I would eat a single biscuit and a coffee in a day for me to survive and it continued for months. My classmates eventually heard what happened and tried to help me out of my situation. I worked at a fast food restaurant, earned money and continued going to school. I got accepted as a student assistant and found a scholarship.
At a young age, I have seen life’s struggles. Those experiences taught me that happiness is not found in wealth, fame, or power. This led me to establishing sincere efforts in reaching out to the community. I devoted my time in volunteering. I was one of the volunteers who responded in Iligan City after the Typhoon Sendong, in Marawi City during the siege, also volunteered in the relief efforts after Typhoon Yolanda and the Zamboanga Siege. And, for all I did, it was with utmost dedication and joy. Never did I once thought of receiving something in return.”
Taking the leadership and peacebuilding roads
Jaime’s story may be full of twists and turns and definitely, his journey did not end there. What came after was a bigger role he did not expect to play.
During the hype of interreligious conflict between Christian and Muslim in Zamboanga City, being a Muslim convert was an advantage to him. He was able to hear different sentiments from both religions and understand both perspectives of conflict without bias and judgment. Christians would have so much hatred against Muslims and would label them as terrorists, while Muslims would have extreme ideologies and criticism against the other.
As a result, Jaime decided to start a weekly interreligious discussion among the youth. He would study common beliefs that would help the youth understand and eradicate ignorance between both religions.
“This made a significant impact on our youth. When the Sulu bombing happened, one of our Christian participants stood up against his family and community – who had so much hatred against Muslims and he defended the Muslims against the plague of hatred and conflict,” recalled Jaime.
A few weeks later, a bombing on a mosque happened in Zamboanga City, which he and his friends from the group responded through exchanging positive narratives about solidarity and union both online and offline. This paved the way later on to a regular community engagement at the grassroots level, bridging hope and breaking the social stigma, which led to the creation of IYouDahan- a youth-led campaign that Jaime founded in 2018.
As the organization grew in numbers, this led to reaching out to the community efforts especially the victims of Zamboanga Siege. One brother who regularly attends the weekly discussion suggested to bridge efforts to their community. Accordingly, majority of their youths are on drugs, theft, violence, premarital sex, – in consequence, peace and security has become unstable. Their children have been so exposed into the depths of social issues and marginalization.
At first, Jaime was hesitant to answer this call due to security problem, but eventually decided to entrust everything to God and continue there. Their discussion on spiritual empowerment is grounded by Jaime’s belief on leadership in Islamic perspective. The group was able to see and feel every youth’s struggle and sorrow every time they meet.
“These young people really wanted to change their lives for good, but because of lack of access to opportunities in the grassroots level, poverty, the social and discrimination are rampant. This opened my eyes to numerous social issues, and made me realize that the prevalent social problems in our community is not just merely the absence of wealth, but due to inequalities, marginalization, and the isolation that our society creates onto them,” Jaime said.
Jaime to his friends is more like a brother. He received a scholarship from a non-government organization and chose to study in a state university. He decided to offer a portion of the scholarship amount to one brother from the community who, like him, was eager to finish his studies.
“The brother to whom I offered financial support was one of the victims in Zamboanga Siege. Accordingly, he had to stop going to school to work as a helper. He had to support his eight siblings too. Luckily, he was able to finish ALS with outstanding grades and now he is a freshman in college. He is also an active youth leader in Zamboanga City and his story has inspired the youth in the community, and encouraged transformational change at the grassroots level,” recalled Jaime.
Together with the members of IYouDahan, Jaime continues to bridge hope at the grassroots level through spiritual empowerment and breaking social stigma to different schools and barangays. He also plans to connect with Madrasas and Islamic communities and works in collaborating with more organizations to support the cause.
Being a Mindanaoan and an Olive Peace Prize Awardee
When asked what it truly means to be a Mindanaoan…
“Someone whose worth equates with the level of his/her work towards the people and Mindanao – thus worthy of being called a Mindanaoan. A servant and source of strength towards transformational change. Someone who can sacrifice his/her time, comfort, and even his wealth to facilitate his people’s growth and development,” Jaime answered.
His efforts in peacebuilding and civic engagement led him to numerous personal, advocacy and career development opportunities, including EAI-Philippines’ second OURmindaNOW Peace Tech Camp in August 2019.
He recently received the first Olive Peace Prize at the OURmindaNOW Summit on February 1, 2020, a recognition given to one outstanding EAI Tech Camp Alumnus as manifested in his meritorious leadership, sustained engagement with EAI and impactful community outreach. Jaime believes that the award belongs to the collective results happening at the ground.
“I am merely a representative of this joint effort; this honor belongs to my people. I am limited, and my deeds last until the doorsteps of my grave. But if it is a manifestation of our joint efforts and sincere actions towards the people, then it is worthy of recognition, let this legacy live and pass on to future generations,” Jaime said in his acceptance speech.
Part of the Olive Peace Prize award is the PHP25,000.00 worth of cash grant, that Jaime plans to utilize in his continuing engagement with the youth through the IYouDahan.
Apart from being a peace influencer, Jaime is studying Masters of Arts in Guidance Counselling at Western Mindanao State University. He is also part of the OURmindaNOW-ZamPenBaSulTa Messaging Hub.