Rhejam’s life journey is a tapestry of colors woven with the threads of sacrifice, patience and resilience.

Her story, which unfolded in the vibrant landscape of Maguindanao province, reflects the transformative power of education and the unwavering spirit to shape a brighter tomorrow for herself and her family.

“My parents were members of this organization. They started at a young age. They committed themselves to their fight for freedom back then. They got married and lived a couple of months only and went back to continue their services at the MILF camps,” Rhejam related in a public testimony, as the national government and (Mindanao State University) MSU-Maguindanao inked a Memorandum of Agreement to implement peacebuilding initiatives under a program on the transformation of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camps.

Growing up in the struggle

Rhejam’s traces her roots to the colorful history of her parents. They were both members of the MILF, who valiantly fought for the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination.

United by a shared cause, they got married. However, their union was fleeting, as their duty to the cause beckoned them back to the heart of the MILF camps.

Her father, a stalwart leader, and her mother, a beacon of compassion, found themselves in different corners of the camps – one leading, the other providing crucial first aid alongside a group of resilient women.

With four young siblings to take care of, Rhejam assumed the role of the eldest. She had to deal with the challenges of growing up without the presence of her parents.

Their family’s story unfolded against the backdrop of missed family moments, the consequence of her parents’ commitment to a greater purpose.

“Growing up, my parents missed many of our stories because of going to the camps. There were only a few hours and days that we were complete. Here, I realized how important education is, and how it can be a tool for peacebuilding,” Rhejam shared.

Though Rhejam loved her parents deeply, she harbored a deep hurt against them, which surfaced each time she had to hide her father’s identity when filling up enrolment forms.

“Every time na nag fi-filling out ako ng forms, I am hurt kasi there’s a need to hide my father’s identity,” she recalled.

Breaking the veil of secrecy

During her most difficult moments, Rhejam would ask herself, “Why am I here?”

The answer to her question came with a fierce determination to break the veil of secrecy.

“I am here because I do not want my children to experience the same, to hide my name or their father’s name.” she shared.

Rhejam’s words were a declaration of resilience, an affirmation of the transformative power of knowledge, and a commitment to shaping a brighter future.

“I am here because I believe in the transformative power of knowledge and the potential for a brighter future through understanding, tolerance, and cooperation,” she declared.

Embracing the rich diversity of her heritage, Rhejam committed herself to making a positive contribution to society through education.

Her belief in the potential for a future where differences are respected and peace prevails is evident in her mindset, saying, “Education transcends boundaries and brings people together in pursuit of a better world.”

Transformative power of education

Rhejam, now a second-year College of Forestry and Environmental Studies student, believes in the transformative power of knowledge, envisioning a brighter tomorrow through understanding, tolerance, and cooperation.

“While I respect the diverse backgrounds and beliefs that make up my heritage,” Rhejam affirmed, “I’m committed to contributing positively to society through my education, fostering dialogue, and working towards a future where differences are respected, and peace prevails,” she pointed out.

A proud child of MILF parents, Rhejam’s presence at MSU was a deliberate choice—to embrace the transformative power of knowledge.

In her words, “I am a child of an MILF.” She has learned to stand up for her principles, thus becoming a symbol of resilience and hope for other young Bangsamoro people like her.

She revealed that enrolling at MSU-Maguindanao was an intentional choice.

“I am here at MSU because I have chosen the path of education and its power to better the world where knowledge can lead to understanding, unity, and a brighter tomorrow,” she declared, echoing the sentiments of countless Bangsamoro youth like her who dream of a better future.

In the company of her fellow students at MSU-Maguindanao, she has found solidarity among them, as they exchanged t stories, shared dreams, and a developed collective resolve to uplift not only themselves but also the parents who sent them to schools while serving in the camps.

“I’m committed to contributing positively to society through my education, fostering dialogue, and working towards a future where differences are respected, and peace prevails.” she added.

OPAPRU-MSU Maguindanao partnership

In particular, Rhejam’s is grateful to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) and MSU Maguindanao for recognizing the dreams of youth like her and helping them achieve these aspirations..

“Malaking tulong po itong mga proyekto na ito. Marami po kami dito sa MSU-Maguindanao. We have different stories, struggles. But we share the same dreams – to help our parents who sent us to schools while they are in the camps,” Rhejam said, with pride in her voice.

The OPAPRU, through the Joint Task Force on Camp Transformation (JTFCT), and MSU-Maguindanao, with funding support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Philippines, signed an MOU in October 2023 for the rollout of science and technology-based, climate-smart agricultural projects in MILF’s Camp Abubakar as part of the implementation of the camps transformation program.

The MOU focuses on providing technical assistance for the implementation of socioeconomic interventions in specific previously acknowledged MILF camps, with Brgy. Tugaig, Barira, Maguindanao del Norte, as an initial pilot area.

Under the agreement, MSU-Maguindanao will support the implementation of the Normalization Program for former MILF combatants like Rhejam’s parents and help transform them into peaceful and productive civilians and their camps into resilient and progressive communities.

With two cooperatives at work, this initiative includes workshops on fish condominium and vegetable farming, specifically with trainings on vermicomposting and soil management. The next step in this initiative is to capacitate local cooperatives on marketing and packaging techniques for their produce.

This partnership between OPAPRU and MSU-Maguindanao aims to engage academic institutions and encourage them to be involved in the Camps Transformation Program, which is among the key socioeconomic components of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

At MSU-Maguindanao, Rhejam’s life story has emerged as a beacon of hope, a testament to the transformative power of education, and a promise for a future where dreams could flourish, unburdened by the shadows of the past. ###