Vanilla Peace Poodle

There are few things that jaded journalists can stand for and one of those is motherhood statements.

By training, we can’t take anything a source tells us at face value and we tend to look for the concrete proof behind all statements of intended fact, if you can help it.

Hence why motherhood statements are so hard to swallow because well, they’re so… “motherhood.”

I was assigned to cover the Global Peace Convention Peacebuilding 2010 at the Manila Hotel last Thursday, and had set up a 3 p.m. interview with the Usher’s New Look (UNL) team, a youth empowerment organization founded by Usher Raymond the R&B artist.

So I trotted off to the Manila Hotel around 12 noon and got there early, such that when the other newspaper reporters came late to their 1:20 appointment, and I came early for my 3pm appointment; it became one big giant round cookie table discussion.

I wanted to focus on UNL, as a feature, but couldn’t ask the questions I wanted because the other reporters were asking “…but what about Mindanao?” questions. It’s the timeliest factor of the conference.

They were looking for concrete solutions expected to be proposed at the peace convention.

To their chagrin, the peace convention spokesperson said that as non-political entities, they can’t give recommendations for solving the conflict in Mindanao. Sorry.

Then he went on to explain, in broad terms –much like a motivational video– how the aim of the conference is to “facilitate the learning of best practices from all over the world and engage the people who have never before been engaged” in order to stop conflict.

I watched as all the male journalists (I was the only girl) shifted in their seats and furrowed their brows like, “Mmmhmmm…. but surely there must be more to it than that.”

Of course there are. You just have to attend the conference in the coming days to get that.

Later on the UNL president said he sensed the reluctance among the press. “They were like yeah… but what about Mindanao? Mindanao happens everywhere.”

But, as the PR center has been calling us incessantly, I think not many journalists decided to go. Which is a shame.

From Left to Right: Shawn Wilson, president of UNL and a really nice guy; James Harris, youth Board of Directors member for UNL and an interesting young man; plus Paul Murray, spokesperson of the convention, whose gold handkerchief was fascinating to look at. They’re watching a video on Mindanao peace initiatives.

So anyway, everyone stiffly listened to the sources talk about their aims and ideals, then I find out that my digital recorder died. Haha! 🙂 So I ended up taking copious notes.

Finally, when everyone else was done asking questions and I was basically inhibited from asking any more (I had lots!) everyone stood up and left.

But I had to stay because I had a 4pm appointment with a Philippine Red Cross person and Dr. Estrella Babano, who is behind the Peace Village project in Lanao del Norte.

Meantime, the sources started interviewing me. They asked me what I thought the cause of the conflict in Mindanao was, and what kids like to do for fun here.

It became a sort of sharing moment among all the people who stayed at the cozy sala, especially when one of the PR assistants talked excitedly about the GPC’s achievements and Dr. Babano’s inspiring projects.

James Harris recorded parts of the conversation with his flip phone. It was actually a pretty scintillating discussion and I took notes.

I decided to keep an open mind because I know ideas (a paradigm or a framework), though they aren’t translated into concrete actions all the time, are necessary to guide action.

As I was listening to them consult with us and tell us how they wanted to ask the youth themselves to come up with solutions to problems, I thought, “Hey! This is somehow like activism, only packaged as volunteerism.”

They go through a consultative process, asking the people in conflict areas themselves to come up with solutions to their own problems (not imposing), then they provide a little helping hand (like money) to see these solutions through.

In a way, it’s less like a systemic change, as activism proposes, but a in-your-own-little-way kind of thing.

As Wilson and Murray stressed in the conversation: “It’s not like we’re Americans coming in and saying we’ll save the day. We’re coming in, asking how we can help empower people and then they can help themselves.”

It has the makings of GND.

As a note, UNL’s team sometimes provide their expertise on civic engagement to President Barack Obama’s administration. How nice.

One of the trustees of the GPC helpfully suggested: “Sa dami ng nakukuha mo, why don’t you turn it into a series? (Since you’re getting so much material, why don’t you make a series?)”

And then Dr. Babano walked in, in her yellow suit and beaded hijab, and she told us all about her Peace Village project.

Of course, everyone loved what she did. The UNL even offered to fly her out to Atlanta, so she can share her experiences with the kids at Camp New Look, UNL’s leadership camp.

Again, since everyone was so happy giving their inputs and getting the peace conversation going, I couldn’t get in a word in edgewise.

Which was fine, I got Dr. Babano’s card in case I could do a feature on her in the future. She seems an interesting lady. She said, “Sige, sa telepono nalang hija.”

At this point I had been a participant to the mini-peace dialogue for over 3 and a half hours. Many notes and some off-the-record requests later, Mr. Wilson said, “I bet those reporters wish they’d stayed huh?”

Maybe. But I’m sure they had an angle to pursue.

All in all, it was a nice learning experience, if you think about it. If anything, I felt these organizations are so passionate about social change, non-political stance and all.

It was enjoyable, if you didn’t mind the motherhood statements. Haha. If you’re in an agreeable mood, some of those statements actually sound sensible, because you know where they’re coming from.

Someone’s hand is on my hip. Hmmmmmm…. Anyway, I suggested after this photo that we have one where we are holding up peace signs. Everyone laughed at my suggestion at first but we did it anyway for fun. But my trusty camera died.

Of course, I was glad they had given me (us) so much of their time, even if these delegates were busy with other meetings.

We shook hands, said “Nice to meet you’s” and they left the room. The UNL team was particularly commendable because they’d just come from an 18-hour sleepless flight then jumped off the plane and got thrown into the fray.

Mr. Wilson said he’s used to it, owing to Usher’s crazy schedule.

Now, remember how I said there are few things journalists stand for? Well aside from motherhood statements, it’s being handled/ manipulated.

After the awesome meeting, I was pulled aside by one long-legged PR woman. Let us call her Ms. Leggy, for the purposes of this account.

After saying her profuse thank you’s for my presence at the event, Ms. Leggy asked me for a favor. If I could please push some people at the network to send a TV crew.

She gave me her card and an extra press kit to hand over to the news gathering team. Which is well and good, since she’s much too busy to hand it in herself, much as she wants to.

And here is the winning moment, wherein I had to stay quiet and not say anything mean to her face. Ms. Leggy goes, “Okay, I didn’t want to drop names or anything, but do you know who I am?”

(Yes, you are the leggy PR woman.)

“I am the girlfriend of (executive from top network, now an executive of a sister company). Do you know who he is?” she asks.

(Guess at a name.)

“No. (Insert name of her boyfriend, as if it’s supposed to matter). I didn’t want to use my influence, you see, because I want to do things on my own,” she says.

(Apparently not.)

“Okay so if you could mention that and put in a word for me, that would be great. And I want you to focus on the peace conference, okay, not anything else. And please keep (…) off the record, okay?” she says.

(Oh, you did not just tell me how to do my job, woman.)

“Anyway, thanks again!” she says, all perky like. Air kiss here and there.

What a peace ruiner that was. hahaha! Plus the traffic I had to go through going back to the office.

But since I had just come from a peace discussion, I decided to let all the negative latter parts slide.

I mean, peace is like a vanilla milkshake, as Shawn Wilson said in the interview. Whatever you mix in there–be it conflict or whatever– will become peace.

So I wish you all a vanilla milkshake. Peace y’all.

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