With much gratitude to Afunyan—our Creator, Tala fulfilled all her academic requirements and earned the Master of Arts degree in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, USA. Her thesis topic, “Decolonizing and Localizing Peacebuilding Through a For-Profit Social Enterprise: The Story of Coffee for Peace and PeaceBuilders Community,” helps us see a clearer picture of our journey at PBCI and CFP.

Twinkle ‘Tala’ Alngag Bautista is CFP’s Senior Vice President and concurrently PBCI’s Chief Operating Officer on graduate study leave for three years. Last Monday, 15 June 2020, she successfully defended her thesis. She will stay in the U.S. for another year for her Optional Practical Training—a temporary employment for practical training directly related to Tala’s major area of study. God willing, she will be back in the country next year.

Tala’s studies were focused on the story of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee for Peace (CFP). She documented the interconnection of a non-profit peacebuilding organization and a for-profit social enterprise. Yet, in a deeper sense, this thesis is an existential journey for Tala.

Indigenous Voice and Identity

“Doing my thesis is a whole-body experience for me,” Tala said when asked how she felt about her academic achievement. She consulted the PBCI-CFP family when she was thinking on her thesis topic. It became clear that her research would be about her journey as an Indigenous woman in the context of her PBCI-CFP family.

“I was not just writing concepts,” she explained. The thesis writing was a very personal identification with the journey of her community as Indigenous People. “I understood the marginalization and death of many indigenous peoples by feeling it with my body,” she continues. “Nightmares beset me. I confronted the many ways I was silenced because of my identity as indigenous woman. I grieved over the times I silenced myself because of fear and belief in the message that I am not enough.”

Tala’s thesis is also a journey of the decolonization of her being. “I realized the colonization of my own mind,” she mused. “And naming those truths is not easy. Many times, I went back to believing that I do not have anything to share to this work,” she added. “Those darkest times, I can say with much certainty that the Creator held me up through the people who love me, through the song of a bird, through the intricacy of a flower, through the feel of a rough trunk at my back, through so many means!”

The climax of this research is an amplification of Indigenous Peoples’ voice. Tala articulated it well in her recent text message. “Until it is finished!” she exclaimed. “My thesis is a journey of reclaiming my voice. It is my way of declaring that indigenous peoples exist and we thrive! Indigenous peoples have wisdom to share. Indigenous peoples have a place in this ecosystem.”

“My thesis is a journey of reclaiming my voice. It is my way of declaring that indigenous peoples exist and we thrive! Indigenous peoples have wisdom to share. Indigenous peoples have a place in this ecosystem.” Photo by Howard Zehr

Our Community Leaders Celebrate with Tala

June Moya Rojo, Peace and Reconciliation Coordinator for Eastern Mindanao, worked closely with Tala in various conflict transformation assignments in the field. “Your being so decisive in peacebuilding,” she addressed Tala, “sows guiding lights.” There were quite a few instances when Tala, June and their team were confronted with challenges that could transform a conflict towards a resolution, or could escalate a conflict towards a cycle of violence. Their field reports were filled with narratives of Spirit-interventions and wisdom that led to dialogue, which led, in turn, to conflict transformation. With memories of these experiences together, June refers to Tala as a person who “wins friends for a lifetime.”

Tala received congratulatory greetings from Sihaya Ansibod, PBCI’s Director of Field Operations. “I thank God for the life He gave you,” Sihaya said. “You inspire a lot of people especially the young generation. Thank you for being a good friend, colleague, mentor, and for being my sister.” In the past few years, Sihaya and Tala were assigned together in critical field zones—like armed conflicted areas. Those kinds of experiences usually prompt PBCI field workers to consider each other as ‘blood sisters’—like a kind of commitment and friendship that is almost equivalent to a ceremonial mingling of blood. “All the hard work you have put-in have paid off and I’m very happy and proud of your achievements,” Sihaya continues. “Looking forward to work with you on the field again.”

Joji ‘Lakambini’ Pantoja, President & CEO of Coffee for Peace, expressed her confidence in Tala’s authentic journey as a leader. “I am very proud of her because she thrives while being so grounded on her spirituality and culture,” Joji said. “Those are values that PBCI and CFP stand for.” As Senior Vice President of CFP, Tala will take a big chunk of leadership responsibilities in this social enterprise. Joji appreciates Tala’s teachable attitude. “As her Ina (mother or spiritual parent), I have my full trust on her on how she loves to help the marginalized communities,” she further said, “and those additional letters after her name will not make her turn her back on the poor.”

“Tala’s cross-cultural journey and academic achievement are significant contributing factors to her total development as a peacebuilding thinker and leader,” said Lakan Sumulong, our Ama (father or spiritual parent) at PBCI-CFP Tribe. “Her rootedness in her Indigenous elders’ wisdom, her self-respect as a woman, her theology of justice and peace, and her varied field experiences were the rich foundations for her thesis writing and her leadership preparation,” Ama added. “The Creator, always, has a prepared significant mission for a prepared person.” Lakan is our Lead DreamWeaver at PBCI.

Abstract of Tala’s Thesis

Decolonization and localization are becoming buzzwords in the global peacebuilding field. However, even with the increasing interest, peacebuilding studies acknowledge that there is a gap between the rhetoric and practices on the ground especially among international organizations.

Business is also getting attention for its role in peacebuilding, whether as a driver of conflict or as a catalyst for peace. Peacebuilding research is underlining the critical role of business to address the changing landscape of conflict that necessitates the need for economic regeneration.

The purpose of this research is to contribute to the knowledge bank in peacebuilding especially the role of a social enterprise in the processes of decolonization and localization by sharing the story of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee for Peace (CFP). The former is a non-profit peacebuilding organization while the latter is a for-profit social enterprise. Through individual interviews, the management, peacebuilding field workers, and office staff of these two interdependent organizations shared how CFP impacted PBCI’s peacebuilding work in the areas of centering local worldviews, community engagement, development of an alternative funding model for peacebuilding, transitions, and emphasis on local ownership and leadership.

Moreover, the stories show that the peace framework was applied in the formation of CFP, its structure and organizational culture. Further recommendations include ways for CFP and PBCI to improve its peacebuilding practices.

Intertwined with the narrative is the personal journey of the researcher as she finds her way to what it means to be an indigenous researcher.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2020/06/19/tala-completes-her-masters-degree-from-emus-center-for-justice-peacebuilding/


We are sent by Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with our international community.