Message, UNDP Country Director Titon Mitra: Opening of "Children at the Crossroads: Mindanao seen through the hearts of her children" Exhibit

Apr 24, 2015

Invite poster of "Children at the Crossroads: Mindanao seen through the hearts of her children" Exhibit - Photos by Jun de Leon, Short Film by Tim de Leon, and Stories by An Mercado-Alcantara

“Children Caught in the Crossfire”


·        I would like to congratulate the organizers and photographer Mr Jun de Leon, film maker Tim de Leon and story-teller An Mercado Alcantra for this wonderful body of work.


·        Here in Manila and far from the towns and fields of Mindanao, it is sometimes easy to forget that conflict has raged in this country for nearly half a century.


·        The images and stories hopefully remind us that there is another reality – albeit a tragic one - playing out.


·        The children we saw today are just one of many who can not be guaranteed peace and the opportunities that peace bring with it.


·        These are children that are subject to the aspirations, frustrations, politics and prejudices that they have no control over but which will shape their world and their lives.


·        Jun de Leon in framing this exhibition said that he found beauty in their souls and a beauty that could not be sullied by war.


·        Clearly he is speaking about the resilience of the children in the face of considerable adversity.  This adversity however need not be a given.


·        For all of us here we should be asking ourselves what we can do to remove that adversity.


·        In 2000 the Philippines saw more than 1 million people displaced as a consequence of war.  Nearly half of these were children.  I looked back at interviews undertaken with 12 – 17 year olds affected by that displacement.  The dominant emotions expressed were the following:


o   Anger and loathing against a war that never seems to end

o   Fear of death

o   Fear of losing ones mind

o   Stress and feeling of violation at the loss of freedom and their belongings

o   Sadness and separation from class mates, friends and neighbors

o   Anxiety at the abandonment of schools

o   Fear of and trauma from losing family and friends


·        No child deserves to view the world in this way.


·        Let me here make some personal observations on where we stand today.


·        I find it disturbing that a peace that appeared to be so very close is now in danger.


·        Much of the public and political discourse appears to be far from trying to secure a negotiated settlement but rather is surfacing what clearly were deep seeded prejudices.


·        Rather than moving in unity to find the solutions required and with a sense of urgency, the discourse is serving to polarize and deepen the divides - making a lasting peace much more elusive.


·        As someone who has served in many countries riven by sectarianism and ethnic conflict I have seen first hand the consequences of the failure of securing peace – the marginalization, the despair, the disconnect with normality, the overwhelming economic and social cost.


·        Ultimately those who bear the cost most are the likes of the very children we saw tonight.


·        As a father of three, I, like I am sure most of you who are parents in this room, realize that one thing that we MUST give our children is opportunity to realize their full potential.


·        These children that we saw today may not have that opportunity.


·        The purpose of this exhibition at least in my mind is to strike the emotional chords that catalyse us to be not observers but participants in this moment in history that is now unfolding.


·        To the extent that we can, we need to ensure that those that are deliberating on the BBL and who can influence its form and its passage can also see into the hearts of the children of Mindanao.


·        For those in the media, you have a critical role in creating a deeper non prejudiced understanding to give these children a chance.


·        Pursuing a peaceful solution to the armed conflict is not the responsibility of the parties to the conflict alone.  Everyone plays a critical role.


·        I hope the images we have seen and the stories we have heard motivate us to help secure for these children the future that they deserve – one with dignity and hope


Thank You.

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