5th graders come together to celebrate differences in this year’s Summer Kids Peace Camp By jimmy Sta. Cruz PGO Media Center

lalaAMAS, Kidapawan City (March 18) – Thousands of Grade Five boys and girls from different public elementary schools in Cotabato will assemble in the 6th Gov Lala Taliño-Mendoza Summer Kids Peace Camp (SKPC), a 3-day camp initiated by Governor Emmylou “Lala” J. Taliño-Mendoza to promote peace, understanding and appreciation among Christian, Moro and Lumad children or Tri-People living in the province.

Norito T. Mazo, Community Affairs Officer I and Provincial Coordinator of SKPC informed that the camp will jump off in the Municipality of Aleosan (Dualing Elementary School) on March 21-23, 2016.

“It is the much awaited activity every summer where we gather as many fifth graders and teach them the importance of peace as well as developing leadership skills among them”, said Mazo.

At the peace camp, youths explore their differences in religion, culture, faith, belief and tradition and instill in them that as youth they play crucial role in the endeavor for a long lasting peace in Cotabato and in the island of Mindanao which have been affected by war and conflict for a long time.

“To put the children in the activity and let them talk about personal beliefs and how they view things as well as telling their stories, are the things we want to happen and these are brave and noble acts from the young participants” articulated Mazo adding that for six years now the camp has helped more than a hundred thousand children to better understand themselves and their peers through the lectures and trainings of SKPC.

After the Municipality of Aleosan, the 3-day camp series will be conducted in all the municipalities and lone city (Kidapawan) throughout April and May.

As her brainchild to encourage unity, camaraderie and peace among the Tri-People by engaging the youth, Gov Taliño-Mendoza fervently hopes that children will be opened to new doors in SKPC. “Through the camp, we aim to make the youth understand the complexities of their religious identities, culture and the rest of their beliefs and developed a sense of trust and confidence with each other and erase animosity, confusion and fears”, said the governor.

In 2015, close to 25,000 fifth graders successfully completed the 3-day camping held in various public elementary and high schools in Cotabato where they acquired peace initiatives, leadership skills training and even environmental protection and basic survival skills.

A particular office or department in the Provincial Capitol is in charge of the whole duration of the SKPC with the assistance from the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Office of the Civil Defense, Department of Education and other concerned agencies as training partners.

Governor Taliño-Mendoza believes that the participants, after spending three days together will develop good relationships and create a stronger bond among Christians, Moro and the Lumads.

“The camp aims to find a way for children of different religions to appreciate each other’s important place in the society and develop consciousness that despite their differences they need to learn to exist together peacefully”, the governor stressed.

For his part, DepEd Cotabato Schools Division Superintendent Dr. Omar Obas refer to the camp as a “life-changing experience for children” as they blend and connect with another, celebrate their differences and eventually create stronger, inclusive relationships.

The education department conforms to the initiative of children being together and makes them realize that each one has an important part to attain long-lasting peace.

Aside from the DepEd, the SKPC as a peace initiative gained support from Local Chief Executives who provide logistical and other support to ensure the success of the activity.

Fifth graders or children aging 10-11 years old are selected to undergo trainings in SKPC because as incoming Grade 6, they still have one year to apply all the learning and re-echo these to other grades or to their respective communities.

It will be the first time for many participants to be away from home for three days but knowing the significance of the camp, parents and guardians gave their permission to their children to join, of course with the presence of facilitators, trainers and support staff.

For six years now, SKPC has really worked for the betterment of the children and their communities, an endeavor which has gained appreciation and support from different stakeholders in the province. (JIMMY STA. CRUZ with reports from ROVILLE ANN SOTTO and RANDY I. PATCHES/Photo by PGO Media Center)