Walk with faith in your heart

Published January 28, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Milwida M. Guevara
Milwida M. Guevara

They were not our ordinary crowd . The women came in black and were wearing headscarves or “hijab”. Some had their faces totally covered with “nijab”. The men came in white and black cassocks and were wearing “taqiyah” over their heads. One had a thin white veil over his head .We were told to seat women separately from men. And I was warned never to touch the men. We were meeting 170 Ameen, Ustadz, Imams, and Azatids from Marawi.

My life must be turning into a full circle. I started my career as an Extension Worker in Tondo with the Columban Fathers. In my sunset years, I find myself working with Muslim religious leaders.

With the support of USAID, we have been trying our best to rebuild the hearts of children and their families from Marawi. With our constant presence, we reassure them that others truly care. To be truly inclusive, we need to work with Imams . They are the most respected sector in the community. They are listened to with great faith because they bring the words of Allah.

But looking at those doubting eyes convinced us that our work will not be easy. They looked indifferent and were reluctant to join the ice breakers. We also had to break the language barrier. Fortunately, Councilor Abdani bridged what could have been a “great divide.”

The Imams were not familiar with each other. Apparently, it was their first assembly where they interacted with one another. They hardly stood up when we played group games. They remained seated and were reluctant to meet other people in the room. We accepted their difficulties and chose another game. They were asked to form a circle and threw ball to another person. This time, we asked them to say the name of the person after saying the phrase “please catch.” We found them thoroughly enjoying the game while at the same time knowing the names of their peers. That was our first victory.

Our next victory made our hearts jump with joy. Each group was asked to draw in silence. They were only allowed to communicate with their eyes and through hand signals. We found the women to have a stronger team spirit and have a greater understanding of unity. They drew objects which formed a common theme. One poster showed different hands that were pointing to a heart. Another showed a school that was drawn with different lines and color. The men though tended to be more individualistic. The objects they drew were of different sizes and had no pattern. They were drawn in different directions. They tried very hard to rationalize their drawings . Nevertheless, they accepted our observation that they need to be more aware of what others think instead of just going ahead with whatever they want to do.

The last exercise tested their will power to partner with us and do something which they had not done before. We gave every group a situation to dramatize without “talkies”. The Imams surprised us by acting with gusto. One dramatized being a fire victim with full gestures and facial expression. One group demonstrated enthronement of the sultan with makeshift props and costumes that were hastily assembled. Everybody chorused “Lights, camera, action” and clapped heartily. When we asked them if they would like to meet again as an assembly, they all shouted “yes”! They warmed our hearts when they said that the workshop was useful because they learned to work as a team. Now, they now know more people who have the same mission. They are more confident and unafraid to let go of their inhibitions. More importantly, they realize that ” instructions begin with a request and not with a command.”

We started working with people from different faiths and cultures with fear and apprehension. It was not easy. We needed patience and understanding. Instructions had to be repeated and demonstrated. They had to be encouraged and cajoled to participate. We had to understand that refusal to follow instructions was not a sign of disrespect but a product of a culture that treated women differently.

Before they left, they thanked us profusely and asked if they could keep the pencils and markers because they had none. By expressing their needs, they opened their hearts to a partnership. All of us are now walking with greater faiths and love in our hearts.

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