EAI’s Tech Camp: Empowering Mindanao leaders of tomorrow

“The Abu Sayyaf are there and the people are war freaks. Gunfights are everywhere,” said Jaime Salva, when asked what assumptions he’s heard of about Mindanao. 

According to Jaime, the media and the government have played a big factor in giving the people of Luzon the image of how Mindanao is a place full of terror. “It is a war island–this is what the media taught us about what Mindanao is,” he added. 

Jaime, who originally came from Cavite, has lived in Mindanao since 2009 and is based in Zamboanga City for work. After seeing for himself that Mindanao is the exact opposite of what he was told, his perspective changed. Being enrolled in a school in Mindanao also served as an eye-opener for him of what Mindanao truly is. 

For the most part, this was what motivated Jaime to join Equal Access International Philippines’ (EAI-PH) annual Tech Camp for young leaders from Mindanao: to help change the negative narrative of Mindanao and spread messages of peace.

Jaime is one of 115 young Mindanawon leaders who have graduated from the Tech Camp, EAI-PH’s flagship five-day capacity building workshop designed to bolster the use of digital media and messaging in support of peacebuilding objectives. 

The camp is conducted to train and equip participants with knowledge and skills they need in order to fight violent extremism in their local communities. It also focuses on the creation of innovative projects and campaigns that combine community-based interventions with tech-driven solutions that alter narratives which promote violence in offline and online communities.

“The discussion in the camp is so in-depth and at the same time the learning approaches of the camp were so innovative,” Jaime said. “This is EAI-PH’s vision: once you graduate, you are surely equipped with skills on how to transform violent extremism, especially in the grassroots community.”

Training for a peaceful future

Quizzie Buisan, a Tech Camp alumnus who is native in Mindanao, said violent extremism is common in Mindanao because out of all the islands and regions in the Philippines, Mindanao houses the most deprived and poorest of the poor provinces in the country. 

“I decided to join the camp to learn more about preventing and transforming violence extremism and to further my and our organization’s advocacy in peace building,” Quizzie said when asked why she decided to join the camp. 

Jaime and Quizzie are just some of the young Mindanaoans who did not miss the opportunity to make a difference and made a move towards making change. Jaime, in particular, is not only an alumnus of EAI’s Tech Camp, but was also the first recipient of the Olive Peace Prize Award given to him during the OURmindaNOW Summit in Cagayan de Oro last 2019. This award is given to an alumnus who is not only maintaining their relationship and engagement with EAI after they graduated from the camp, but also to those who continue to immerse and transform their respective communities through peace advocacies.

“We try our best to apply what we learned from the camp and most importantly apply it after the training in our engagements especially in our advocacies,” Jaime said towards how the Tech Camp helped him in his career. 

“Our engagement in the camp was not only applicable to our advocacies, but also to our individual life and careers as well,” he added.

Engagement skills were particularly taught to the participants on how to transform violent extremism to positive narrative. Communication skills such as public speaking and video editing were taught to them since these are important in the field when reaching out to a community. 

“Fully utilizing the existing media such as social media, radio, television, etc. is important to convey the message to our audiences,” Quizzie said.

Quizzie was also reinforced with the belief that peace is more than just the absence of war. “It is the presence of equitable opportunities; of peace of mind; of contentment; and of inclusivity and harmony in the community.”

Empowering the youth despite the pandemic 

Adjusting to the new normal, this year’s Tech Camp is going online. Youth leaders from Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur will be the pioneer batch to experience the first Digital Tech Camp.

EAI-Philippines Tech Camp Coordinator Adam Anay thinks that the Digital Tech Camp will be a new and unique challenge compared to the regular, face-to-face camp. In spite of this, the team still wishes to accomplish teaching the skills needed by the youth to continue in their path and at the same time be empowered during the camp’s discussion. 

Each participant had their own reasons for joining the camp. For Jaime, it was to gain the knowledge and skills to become better and be more effective as he reaches out and communicates to the community.

Story written by Gabriel Tadena, Development Communication Student, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan

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