‘I am Mindanao’ campaign among final four in Facebook Global Digital Challenge

By Stephen J. Pedroza

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Their campaign has become more timely and relevant in light of the bloody clash between the armed forces of the country and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group in the Islamic City of Marawi on May 23 this year.

“I am Mindanao,” a campaign on countering violent extremism, was born at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan in 2016, collectively led by socially-oriented Development Communication (DevCom) students.

The social media-based campaign was aimed at educating the public, particularly, the youth of Cagayan de Oro City and its neighboring areas on violent extremism, strengthening the sense of pride of being Mindanaoans, and empowering the millennials to take part in peace and nation-building initiatives.

“I believe that our campaign is very significant because Mindanao is in imminent danger against violent extremist groups,” shared Evans Yonson, ‘I Am Mindanao’ campaign supervisor and DevCom department chairman.

“It is strongly relevant for the youth because the violent extremist groups are recruiting young vulnerable Mindanaoans. We don’t want this to happen to the youth of Mindanao,” he added.

I AM MINDANAO FAMILY. Campaign supervisor: Evans Yonson (center, in blue). Season 1 team: Brian Adam Anay (team leader), Patricia Mae Mabalos, Timothy Justin Emata, Ruth Esther Bermundo, Jericho Montellano, Celesti Diane Bravo, Meira Steffanie Andutan. Season 2 team: Rey Anthony Anacleto (team leader), Marvin Pamisa, Kurt Anthony Chan, Samantha Nicole Tabor, Alyckssa Mae Castaños, Jean Abarquez, Chicco Libarnes. Contributed photo.

This campaign started with a Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice (KAP) research and the results led them to more focused and well-designed plans and strategies. They branded the campaign as ‘I am Mindanao’ to make it more personal and closer to the heart of the community.

The campaign’s primary targets were XU students within the age bracket of 16 to 21, but it later rippled to other schools and groups. “We conducted dialogue-meetings with young tri-people (Christians, Muslims, and Lumads) leaders. These led to a more developed and an encompassing campaign,” Yonson said.

Countering violent extremism

Beginning in 2016, a series of activities had been carried out by the team, including a young communicators’ camp, university seminars, informative social media contents, exhibits, and engaging projects, as efforts to lay down the foundation of countering violent extremism in Mindanao with the youth standing as “pioneers for change and development.”

Now, ‘I am Mindanao’ goes international as the campaign was named among the Peer to Peer: Facebook Global Digital Challenge initiated by US-based EdVenture Partners and participated in by 144 universities worldwide. The challenge was to design and implement a campaign on countering violent extremism using Facebook as the main platform.

For Yonson, there are a lot of features of ‘I am Mindanao’ that may have caught the screening committee’s eyes.

“Our social media content and materials are research-based and developed locally. We utilize traditional and modern media — radio, TV, newspaper, blog, photography, video, and all possible social media platforms. We were quick to respond to the call for action, especially during the Marawi siege. We were already online and giving information two hours after the attack of Marawi started,” he said.

Their Facebook post condemning the acts of terrorism on May 23 reached 1.8M users. The campaign also received an overwhelming support from the community beyond Xavier Ateneo — from the Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Muslim leaders, schools, people’s organizations, and private companies, among others.

Rebuilding a war-torn city

Brian Adam Anay, the first DevCom student leader of the campaign (Season 1), believes that Mindanaoans should actively take part in peace-building programs.

“We have the context. We know what is happening here. We understand the life and struggles of our fellow Mindanaoans. Interventions should be done starting from the community facing the problem, more than just imposing a new set of tools or system,” he said.

In rebuilding a war-torn city, leadership plays a crucial role.

“My message to our national and local leaders is simple: Give Mindanao a chance. All I want to ask for them is to never give up on Mindanao, not to give up in the peace process, and to continue supporting all the efforts that are being done here,” Anay said.

“It is more important today that we give light to Mindanao and her development. Nothing can be made with sheer aggression and force. We need understanding, peace, and dialogue to bring in development. So, please give Mindanao a chance,” he added.

PAGANA 2017. “I am Mindanao” staff and volunteers strike a group photo after the Pagana 2017 held at the Magis Roofdeck of Xavier Ateneo on May 20. Contributed file photo.

Now transitioning into its third year, ‘I am Mindanao’ came up with the #MealForMarawi fund-raising initiative in partnership with the Tech Camp Philippine delegation.

“The initiative raised and tripled the target of P25,000 [intended for] internally displaced families. We also helped in XU’s Tabang Marawi during the repacking of relief goods,” shared Marvin Pamisa, ‘I am Mindanao’ (Season 3) campaign leader.

RELATED READ: Valedictory address of Brian Adam Anay: ‘Who am I?

Presenting ‘I am Mindanao’ to the world

Xavier Ateneo’s ‘I am Mindanao’ campaign is set to present their engagements on July 19 before a panel of senior leaders, policymakers, and guests in Washington DC, along with the campaign teams from three other universities (American University of Nigeria, CEU Universidad San Pablo in Spain, and the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh).

“Honestly, we were not confident with our submission due to some constraints but when the results came out last June 16, we rejoiced because we knew that it was hard to qualify in that international competition,” recounted Rey Anthony Anacleto, ‘I am Mindanao’ (Season 2) campaign leader.

“We are very thankful because our prayers were heard. The inclusion of ‘I am Mindanao’ in the final four is a privilege for us, Mindanaoans, to represent the country given the fact that violent extremism exists in our country today, as evidenced by what happened in Marawi City,” he added.

In the midst of the Marawi crisis, Anacleto said that they now have become more determined to positively influence the youth.

He explained: “This campaign plays a huge role in dissuading the youth to support these violent extremist groups who are infesting Mindanao. We are even more fueled to present this issue internationally to gain more knowledge on how to counter and prevent violent extremism from deteriorating our island.”∎

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