Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman: Teach Peace to Build a Culture of Peace
What is peace? Is it simply the absence of conflict? For Bai Rohaniza “Honey” Sumndad- Usman, peace is a way of life.
Honey is the Philippine Country Director and Coordinator for Asia America Initiative (AAI) that aims to promote peace and build healthy communities in Mindanao. AAI’s innovative programs integrate public health, educational excellence and livelihood opportunities to build Hope and Human Dignity as the framework for non- violence and reconciliation. She is a proponent of AAI’s Inter-generational Peace Building Process as a key to sustainable peace. She has always encouraged everyone that we should “Teach Peace to build a Culture of Peace. We have to build a Culture of Peace to create different generations of peace builders toward our goal of a just and peaceful society”
Honey’s life is a story of two cultures. She was born into royalty as a Maranao princess through her Muslim father while her Catholic mother hails from Bulacan. Despite the notions her status might connote, Honey grew up outside wealth and comfort. At the age of two, she moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where her father worked as a civil engineer. When she was seven years old, the Gulf War broke out in the region and she laid witness to the terror of conflict thus shaping her commitment to peace. In Honey’s own words, “I have experienced war myself. I am working hard for peace because I do not want other children to suffer from conflict”. She shares herself with anyone – Christian, Muslim, Maranao, Maguindanaoan, Lumad , Tausug or any religious or ethnic group. She finds a bit of herself in every child who fears the sound of war.
After completing high school education in Saudi Arabia, Honey decided to go back to her family’s homeland and take up college in the Philippines. She was drawn to study in Assumption College as it would expose her to the other side of her heritage, which is Christianity. While at Assumption, she joined the Ayala Young Leaders Congress in 2003 and shares that the program had been a “changemaker” for her and contributed greatly to her lifetime mission of building a culture of peace.
Honey’s graduation thesis revolved around a comparative study of Assumption and Madrasa education in the development of human values. According to her, “What I wanted to prove was that despite the difference in cultures and religions, we still have a lot of similarities that we should focus on.” The outcome of the thesis showed that one of the main causes of prejudice was a lack of knowledge.
Upon finishing her degree in Education, Honey worked at the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Youth Affairs. She stayed for six months till she was invited to join Asia America Initiative. Her work there has helped to bring her closer to her roots in Mindanao. She started AAI’s Catalysts for Peace Children and Youth Arm Program focused on culture, action and intergenerational peace-building — educating the younger generation starting in the Elementary Level on the Culture of Peace and coming up with action plans to be peace prime movers in their own communities especially with those in Mindanao who are constantly exposed to conflict. According to Honey, “If people have been exposed to conflict for ages, we really have to break the cycle. It is really through education, and educating people about peace – especially the younger generation.”
While looking for educational materials on peace building, Honey found the need to create a book she could use. She enlisted the help of AYLC alumnus, Marlon Jinon, in order to come up with The Mighty Adventures of Kapayapaan. The book features three characters—Kapa, Yapa, and An who each represent Islam, Indigenous Culture, and Christianity. It is now being used for modules and peace games.
Honey is also a Muslim Social Entrepreneur and her interest in Fashion influenced her to design and style her Hijabs (head cover), which she launched last September 2010 called, “Rohaniza’s Hijab Style and Collection” with her “Muslim Republic” Statement Shirts mainstreaming the positive side of Islam in response to common negative notions against the said religion. In the future, she would like to put up her own Muslim Women’s Boutique.
Honey is the recipient of this year’s “Emerging Peace Champion” Award from the N-Peace Network. The Awards highlight the women who empower communities and are exemplary peace builders. She was also recognized as an Ambassador for Peace in 2007 by the Universal Peace Federation and is also a Princeton Global Network Awardee for World’s Most Accomplished Individuals for year 2009-2010. She is a founding Member of the Active Catalysts of Tomorrow and the Outreach Convenor of the Young Moro Professionals Network, a non-governmental organization composed of young Muslim professionals advocating peaceful means to improve the socio- economic well-being of the Bangsamoro people. She has been recognized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines for her support to the AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Operations, contributing greatly to the attainment of the AFP’s mandate of working together with different sectors by successfully conducting a series of peace building programs that created venues to help deepen the knowledge, understanding and relations not only between the civil society and the AFP but also among Muslims, Christians and Indigenous People, creating more awareness to the youth by way of teaching them to see PEACE AS A WAY OF LIFE.
Our country, is much like Honey—a complexity of multiple cultures and beliefs. It is Honey’s dream to be able to establish a Children’s Center for Peace both inside and outside the capital. The center would specialize on peace education for younger generations of Muslims and Non-Muslims as en effort in developing a sustainable culture of peace for generations to come.
In doing all of these things, Honey is vocal about her “motto”. She calls it her “BRAVO scheme”: Breaking the barriers between different religions and cultures, be the Voice of the people of Mindanao and help create Opportunities to develop the resources in Mindanao and give the people the kind of life that they deserve. She is a Warrior Princess for Peace in the Philippines.
Honey and AAI are currently collecting donations to help affected families and evacuees in Zamboanga City. Their support has reached 95,000 individuals. They will hold an Interfaith Prayer and Candle Lighting for Peace ceremony with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Peace Mural partners along the Peace Murals in EDSA, Camp Aguinaldo on September 25 from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For inquiries about the Asia America Initiative and its peace and relief efforts, kindly call (02) 403 7910 or email [email protected]gmail.com. Visit them online at aaiph.org or www.facebook.com/aaiph.
Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman: Teach Peace to Build a Culture of Peace