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A teacher’s journey to promote inter-religious dialogue in Philippines

Amelita P. Estimo, a Filipina

“I am called to promote inter-religious dialogue,” says Amelita P. Estimo, a Filipina.

“In inter-religious dialogue, we embrace and share the mission and spirituality of life with others to create a peaceful and harmonious society,” she added.

It all started in 2010 with a heartfelt invitation from Notre Dame of Kidapawan College's school president, a Marist brother with a big heart for dialogue and peace.

The Marist Brothers of the Schools operate Notre Dame of Kidapawan College, a Catholic basic and higher education institution in Cotabato City, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, southern Philippines.

The Marist brothers established Estimo a Faith and the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, with summer course offerings on basic, intensive, and special courses on A Culture of Dialogue, Path to Peace, Rediscovering Islamic and Christian Faith, and Sharing.

Since its founding by Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, PIME, the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City has collaborated with Christian and Muslim communities to advance an interreligious peace movement in the troubled Mindanao.

In summary, Estimo's role as the Values Education Coordinator, teacher, and Campus Ministry Coordinator of the High School Department at Notre Dame of Kidapawan College drew her attention to the courses offered.

“Furthermore, the Marist brother instructed me to see him if I was interested in going to Zamboanga City and taking the five-week formation,” she recalled.

Two weeks after my discernment, I went to his office for confirmation and said, ‘Yes,’. It was for her professional growth, her school community (both her colleagues and students), her Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC), and the parish where she belonged.

While in the Formation Center of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, with almost 40 Christian-Muslim participants of different academic backgrounds and perspectives, individual differences, cultures, religious orientations, and congregations, she was so amazed, overwhelmed, and overjoyed by the dynamics, faith-sharing, and creative presentations of the participants from morning to evening.

“Every day, celebrations of the liturgy for Christians and Islam prayers inspired, deepened, and strengthened my commitment as a catechist, a values education teacher, and a Campus Ministry coordinator,” she added.

“Our daily class encounters, evening sharing and simulations, prayers, socialization, life celebrations, and weekend pastoral integration and immersion for five weeks with different professors, resource speakers, and facilitators had equipped me with so much knowledge and life skills needed for my ministry as a teacher, builder, and proclaimer of peace and dialogue, which to me is a path to a harmonious relationship,” she recalled.

It also inspired and challenged her to continue the mission and plant the same seeds of dialogue and peace.

After completing the five-week formation, she carried with her all the knowledge, experiences, hopes, and dreams she had for her hometown, particularly for the school community where she worked, the parish, and her BEC, where she was actively involved.

With so much inspiration and excitement, she talked to the school president. She introduced the concept of peace and dialogue education to be integrated into the religious education subject and students’ recollections.

With God’s intervention and the collaboration of the administrators and teachers, it happened in the school. Indeed, it created a lively, peaceful, and harmonious class home and school environment. The implementation has lasted for four years since she took early retirement for greener pastures.

In 2014–2015, Estimo worked at a community college near her hometown.

“I brought and introduced the same spirit of life in dialogue and peace to my first-year college students since the school was newly opened and installed through the initiative of the municipal mayor,” Estimo said.

In her Filipino course for two semesters, she incorporated peace-dialogue education, a path to harmonious relationships. For them, it was a “breakthrough experience” since most of the students were living in remote areas.

During the 2015 school year, the Department of Education hired Estimo as Teacher 1.

“The Department of Education hiring me as Teacher 1 was a blessing and an answer to prayer, as I had not anticipated receiving such a permanent designation due to my age,” Estimo said.

It was a roller coaster journey, a challenging teaching assignment, and an experience with the Tri-People community in a far-flung barangay of the city. Every day is a faith and life lesson for her, as well as for her colleagues and school students. School building, water and light, economic profile, and health index of the learners are the main concerns every day.

“I have strategized and organized the teachers’ group and the students’ leaders to be creative, resourceful, and linked with cooperatives, family, friends, churchmates, and other stakeholders for my learners’ survival since I was empowered by the headteacher at the school as the officer-in-charge of the high school department to take care of the operations,” she said.

She introduced the harmony prayer and song, whose effect is positive and contagious. She integrated the Gospel values, especially life, into dialogue, peace, and harmonious relationships, as articulated in the Harmony Song/Prayer.

“My fervent prayers, conviction, and commitment to God, church ministry, profession, and the spirit of the Silsilah Movement enabled me to survive and secure a transfer to a large school in Kidapawan City after ten months,” she said.

Kidapawan City National High School hired her to be a senior high school teacher. This was the first year of operation of the K–12 Basic Education Program Curriculum. She was a teacher of 21st-century literature and world religions.

During the 2016 school year, the rector appointed her husband and Estimo as youth animators at Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Grace Cathedral, where they also served as members of the parish pastoral council.

“I am teaching the core subjects of understanding culture, society, and politics, as well as personal development. It was a year full of unlimited blessings, inspiration, and vibrant spirit since I was visited by D'Ambra and Ma’am Minda Sano, who took care of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement of Kidapawan and was invited to join the Silsilah Movement gathering in Zamboanga City.

The school year 2016–2019 was full of vigor, strength, and optimism. Youth in the parish are busy with monthly youth encounter activities in their respective BECs.

At the same time, her students in six classes are busy with creative presentations and exhibits of their portfolios. Indeed, both the parish youth and school learners greatly experience and appreciate the spirit of life in dialogue and peace.

“It was the Lord of Creation, our source of life and joy, working in the midst of it all,” she said.

Strong earthquakes struck us in October 2019, leading to her appointment as the grade leader for the senior high school grade XL teachers, a role she held for nearly three years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, blended classes, both synchronous and asynchronous, were the platforms used by the learners, even the teachers, because face-to-face meetings and classes are a big no. The learners receive weekly modules in their respective barangays. Online classes are required.

“My journey as a grade leader, a catechist, a teacher, and an animator was not easy. I initiated a school-based income-generating project (IGP) selling coffee, avocado, and handicraft bags for a cause via online and social media for my learners' sanitary kits and school supplies,” she said.

It was a heartwarming experience for parents in her advisory class to hand over these essentials to their sons and daughters during module distribution in their respective barangays. God works mysteriously, full of surprises.

“My big hopes, dreams, prayers, faith, and commitment have all deepened and strengthened,” she said.

The school year 2022–present is back to normal, with no more parish youth animators or grade leadership functions.

“I concentrated on my seven teaching loads in the classroom, integrating the Silsilah Dialogue—Peace Spirit: A Path to Harmonious Relationship—and speaking engagement in the Diocese of Kidapawan as one of the resource speakers of the Christian formation of formators,” she said.

“In the classroom, I always emphasize to the learners the value of quality education and peace, shaping a better future together, and promoting dialogue and understanding among classmates, friends, and young people,” Estimo said.

“It has been a wonderful journey for me. The culture of life in dialogue and peace in me is God’s grace, and my mission to fulfill my vision by turning it into concrete action highlights the importance of the core values and competencies of the courses I am teaching,” she said.

It is about transforming the learners’ and colleagues’ hearts from mere recipients of change to the “builders and architects” of a promising and better tomorrow. Young people are highly dynamic, courageous, and passionate by nature, with the potential to change and build a life of dialogue and peace for the nation.

“Our goal is to establish a world based on truth, peace, love, and compassion. I owed all these charisms, insights, and inspirations to my catechist and Silsilah formations,” she said.

She is also grateful to Father D’Ambra, the founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, for his passionate heart and, in a special way, for molding her so well. 

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