Writing the story of the Mindanao Peace Games

Writing the story of the Mindanao Peace Games

I first heard about the Mindanao Peace Games directly from its convener – Noli Ayo – at the Lispher Inn hotel in Davao City’s Juna subdivision. It was 8:30 AM on Saturday January 13th, 2018. I had been invited to join a forum meeting for coaches of Ateneo de Davao University to learn about the sports culture in Mindanao.

Earlier, Noli had met my wife Sophie – a peace advisor based with me in Davao – and she had told him about me and my experience with writing and sports. He was kind enough to invite me to join the forum.

After a joint opening prayer, Noli kicked things off with an ostensibly blunt statement: “Coaching is a thankless job.” What he meant, as he explained later, is that ‘we’ are coaches nobody writes about. We are the “faceless and the nameless”, but that’s okay.

It’s okay because that’s not what coaching is about. Noli’s philosophy, I learned that day, is that coaches are leaders. That insight inspired him and other sports leaders to organize the first ever Mindanao Peace Games – or MPG for short – in 2015. At the forum, Noli drove his message home by likening the coaches to “game changers.” That starts, he explained, with changing yourself, then your team and, lastly, your environment. “If you build the culture well, good people will come,” he said.

It was really his key message. To change Mindanao’s sports culture – and in the process contribute to lasting peace – “we have to show we are worth to be taken seriously.”

Little did I know at the time, Noli was not merely talking the talk, he was walking the walk. In the months that followed I became ever more involved with MPG, joining events and gatherings all over the Philippines, interviewing dozens of coaches, young women student-athletes and community leaders, and even joining the football coaching staff of Ateneo de Davao University.

I was welcomed, valued and challenged to be part of something bigger.

Noli mentioned early on his desire to write a book capturing the MPG story. To serve as somewhat of a blueprint for others to replicate and start movements of their own. I jumped on the idea and gently pushed Noli to work with me on something more personal, almost autobiographical. The journey of Noli the MPG convener, from his early childhood to the present day. For two months we met every Monday in Starbucks and I’d fire away questions, voice recorder strategically placed on the table between us.

mindanao peace games bookWe worked on a draft but the university publication office wasn’t sure about the angle we had chosen and suggested we rework it. By then, I had found employment back home in the Netherlands and the writing project was temporarily shelved.

Due to the pandemic it stayed on that shelf longer than any of us has anticipated. That’s why I was thrilled to hear from Noli that he picked it back up again. This time putting his rightful own stamp on it. And the end-result is something to be truly proud of.

I am grateful to share with Noli the cover of this wonderful book as co-author. And I’m especially proud of the testimonials I gathered from students, coaches and community leaders that are part of this work.

The road towards lasting peace in Mindanao continues. And sports can spur a culture of mutual understanding, leadership and friendship that will hopefully lessen the bumps and humps along the way.

Kalaro. Kaibigan. Kasama.
Competitor. Friend. Kindred.

For more information about the book, visit the website of Blackheath Publishing. Order your copy here

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