A princess bringing about peace in her land sounds like fairy-tale, but for Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, this is her real-life modern story.
Born as a Maranao Princess, Bai Rohaniza’s early understanding of war into a determination to see peace come to Mindanao and the Philippines, and her deep involvement in this agenda makes her a source of inspiration to many of us who struggle to live the most of everyday.
She is currently the Philippine country director and coordinator for Asia America Initiative and founder of Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement.
Honey – as most people would call her, grew up away from the notions of wealth and comfort her status connotes. She grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she became a witness to the terror of what war was.
The Gulf War in the 1990s made her realize her life mission. She recalled that “the doors and windows of her home were plastered to shelter them against chemical explosions. Loud sirens would warn them of missile strikes, and she could never be sure if she would still be alive when the wailing passed. Her parents would hug her and her siblings tight as the room vibrated as though an earthquake had hit.” She has witnessed the ugly picture of conflict where families especially their children suffered the most — leaving the parents with no jobs because of war, not being able to provide the needs of their families, having their kids forced to stop schooling and leaving scars in the hearts and spirits of the families because of the tragedy brought by violence.
Bai Rohaniza has always considered her life’s experiences as part of the Almighty’s plan of preparing her for the mission, which she has always believed to be inclusive. Her life has always been about building peace as she has been interacting with two cultures and religions — her Father’s family are all Muslims, while her Mother’s family are Christians. She shares herself with anyone – Christian, Muslim, Maranao, Maguindanaoan, Indigenous People, Tausug or any religious or ethnolinguistic group. She finds herself in every child who fears the sound of war.
Making people realize of the importance of peace wasn’t easy. People from Mindanao had to live through similar circumstances. Sumndad-Usman narrated in a forum on how her friend still trembles with fear every time she sees a man in uniform, remembering how her mother was chop-chopped by such a man right in front of her.
Spurred by her experiences of war, as well as those of others, Sumndad-Usman has been working for peace for almost ten years.
Right after graduation in Assumption College, she was hired by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Youth Affairs and handled programs. Then worked as the Philippine Country Director for Asia America Initiative. In this role, she promoted peace and development through education, inter-faith, inter-cultural and inter-generational engagement in peace building for the younger generation to be peace prime movers in their own communities, creative and innovative approaches in creating more awareness about the peace building process like Sports, Music and Art.
One of their programs is to educate Muslim children in elementary grade levels regarding the culture of peace to bridge the divide between the Filipino nation and the separatist movement called the Bangsamoro nation even at an early age.
With these experiences and vision in mind, she organized the Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement with focus and emphasis in the importance of teaching Peace in the formative years of a child and integrating an Intergenerational Approach on Peace Building through Institutional and Community Transformation. The approach of the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement is: to “Teach Peace to build a Culture of Peace. We have to build a Culture of Peace to create different generations of peace builders toward our goal of a just and peaceful society.”
Her advocacy goes beyond her work in the Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement. She is an active alumnus of the Ayala Young Leaders Alliance. Also one of the founding members of the Active Catalysts of Tomorrow, Head/Founding Member of Peace Talks – a network of peace advocates discussing issues and actions for Mindanao and also the outreach convener of the Young Moro Professionals Network, a non-governmental organization (NGO) composed of young Muslim professionals advocating peaceful means to improve the socio-economic well-being of the Bangsamoro people.
She was also the former associate editor of Starfish Magazine, the first Filipino youth empowerment magazine, spearheaded and managed by the alumni of the Ayala Young Leaders Congress. In the magazine, she was one of those who conceptualized and pushed for “MindanawBantula”, a section that is geared towards publishing good news and exploratory articles about issues in Mindanao. Moreover, her passion for music makes her the band manager of Clarasbliss, a Reggae Band playing around the Metro who were also influenced to be peace advocates. A Muslim fashionista that influenced her to design and style her Hijabs (head cover), which she launched last September 2010 called, “Rohaniza’s Hijab Style and Collection” with her “Muslim Republic” Statement Shirts.
An exemplary leader, Bai Rohaniza has also been featured in magazines such as Chalk Magazine August 2008 issue wherein she was featured as one of its Young Achievers in 2008 and in Meg Magazine March 2009 issue, as one of its Achievers for 2009. She also received an “Ambassador for Peace” Award from the Universal Peace Federation last October 2008 and “Leadership by Example” Award from the Rotary Club of Manila San Miguel in July 2009. She was also chosen to be one of the Filipino women to be in the photo exhibit and coffee table book of the Foundation for Development through Education entitled “Mulat” that aims to highlight Filipinas’ extraordinary achievements.
In doing all of these things, Honey is vocal about her motto. She calls it her “BRAVO scheme”: breaking the barriers between different religions and cultures, being the voice of the people of Mindanao and creating opportunities to develop the resources in Mindanao and give the people the kind of life that they deserve.
She is a true warrior princess that we should all emulate, and a Game Changer in words and in action.