COMMON THREADS: Women of Sulu Discover Healing Through Weaving

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November 15, 2021 Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista – Last Saturday, 104 women, all once caught in conflict, formally graduated from the Sinagtala Weaving Program at the 4th Marine Brigade Headquarters in BrgyTanduh Bato, Luuk, Sulu.

According to Sinagtala Co-Founder and Executive Director Jamela Alindogan, this program is focused on capacity building and psychosocial healing. “Our students come from the most marginalized sector in Sulu – almost all of them are widows, daughters and wives of slain militants and surrenderors from groups like the MNLF, MILF, and the Abu Sayyaf Group. We’ve done this in Marawi and it’s a humbling experience to be able to do this again in Sulu. Thanks to the improved security situation, the province is stable enough for volunteers to go in and out and be able launch and implement sustainable projects.”

Sinagtala is a non-profit organization whose vision is to bring sparks of hope to communities living in conflict and challenged areas. In Sulu, they deploy a project officer who works in tandem with the military and local government officials. One of these officers is DrPutliRhaiyan M Pulalon. She is half Tausug who is married to an army officer. The couple is based in Cotabato but has been in Sulu since the start of the project last June.

“Ang problema ng armed conflict, umaabot yan sa bahay. Naapektuhan ang buhay ng bawat miyembro ng pamilya, ng mag-asawa at ng mga anak. Kaya nandito kami, pinagsisikapan namin na ipaintindi ang kapangyarihan ng smallest unit ng society, ng pamilya – na maaring dito mag ugat ang kapayapaan. Atkapag sinabing pamilya, napakalaking papel ang ginagampanan ng isang babae, mapa bilang isang asawa o isang anak. Kumbaga lahat tayo may role sa peace building,” said Dr. Pulanon.

Dr. Pulalon worked with master weavers from the municipality of Parang to teach the intricate art of paghahablon (weaving). They weaved handkerchiefs, pisyabit (traditional scarf), table runners and other textile products. According to Dra Pulalon, each student had clocked-in 120 hours each of weaving training, psychosocial and art therapy sessions. Also, they conduct group sharing, art therapy, and other social activities aimed at helping them recover from their common struggle.

“Yung iba nagugulat na ‘ah pwede pala kami mag kwentuhan, pwede pala kaming sumayaw, pwede pala naming mapasaya ang sarili namin’. Ganitong klase yung mga realization nila. Nakakapagod itong ginagawa namin, pero yung makikita na nagbabago yung pagtingin nila sa buhay – sobra-sobra ang saya ko,” Dr Pulalon notes.
Because of this, she was able to connect to the locals on a personal level. One of the graduates of the weaving program is 17- year old Arsalyn Abdulla (not her real name). She is a daughter of an Abu Sayyaf Group member who died in an encounter at Panamao on 2019.

“Noong namatay po si papa grabe ang galit ko. Galit ako sa sundalo dahil namatay si papa ko. Galit na galit din po ako sa ASG dahil iniwan po nila si papa. Para po akong nawala sa sarili ko. Hanggang sa dito po sa Sinagtala ipinaliwanag sa akin na hindi ho maganda ang magtanim ng sama ng loob. Naiintindihan ko na rin po na ginagawa lang ng mga sundalo ang trabaho nila, kaya hindi ko na po inisip na maghiganti. Kung magtanim po ng sama ng loob at mahiganti, uulit-ulit lang po. Hindi ho matatapos ang giyera,” Arsalyn said in an interview

“Sana lang po, ang iba mabuksan din ang isip na lagi pong may buhay po sa labas ng ASG. Hindi ho masasamang tao ang papa ko, hindi ko ho alam kung bakit yun po ang naging kapalaran niya pero magaan na po ang loob ko ngayon. Nawala na po ang galit sa puso ko at naniniwala na po ako na may pag-asa. Tiwala lang po sa kabutihan ng mga tao at kay Allah,” Arsalyn added.

Through Sinagtala, Arsalyn and the rest of the weavers are set to undergo packaging and product development training next year.

For his part, Joint Task Force – Sulu and 11th Infantry Division MGen Gonzales shared that these Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism efforts are planned to be replicated in other parts of Sulu, particularly in the municipality of Parang, Talipao and Patikul.

“Walang tunay na nagwawagi sa labanan dahil ang nagdurusa ay ang mga naiwan na mahal sa buhay. Kaya naman napakaganda ng ginawa ng Sinagtala, ng benefactor nila na Asia Foundation, ng LGU at ng 4th Marine Brigade sa pamumuno ni Col Hernanie Songano. Alam kong magagawa rin natin ito sa 1st district. Napakahalaga nito dahil hindi naman natatapos ang giyera sa huling hininga ng kalaban. Natatapos anv giyera sa pagkakaintindihan, pagtutulungan at pagkalahatang healing, kumbaga.” -MGen Gonzales.