Throwback Thursday: The Filipino Portrait of Peace, The Art of Volunteers

This week’s Throwback Thursday post stretches back to June of this year, during our Project EDSA peace mural painting activity at Camp Aguinaldo. Author Lean Lava shares his thoughts on volunteering for peace in this well-written essay.

The Filipino Portrait of Peace, The Art of Volunteers

by Emmanuel Lean P. Lava

Why volunteer? And more importantly why volunteer for peace? Something so conceptual, so hard to quantify, sustain, and promote, let alone volunteer for.

Peace – everyone knows it won’t be easy. So why?

The thought had occurred to me before I woke up early on a cool Sunday morning for the inaugural of Project EDSA’s Lakbay Para Sa Kapayapaan Sa EDSA. I arrived at the People Power monument at 6:30 am along with many other brave volunteers – 1,500 strong and ready to take on what would be a record-breaking peace mural surrounding Camp Aguinaldo. Unlike most of these volunteers, I wasn’t equipped with a paintbrush, a clean plastic cup for paint, or a firm belief in what I was doing there. I was there simply as a laborer, come to paint a wall.  ???????????????????????????????DSCN3367DSCN3459

 After announcements and instructions, painters adjourned to their assigned wall sections and began splashing color onto Camp Aguinaldo’s wall. They ran up and down along EDSA carrying cups of various paints, a flurry of excited little rainbows darting by the road. Hundreds of hands dipped brushes and dabbed, flicked, and flitted them across the cement walls. Colorful life appeared in spots and strokes… like a brilliant picture trying to put itself together: Large doves flying by signs of peace. A soldier taking a flower from a civilian, mimicking a scene that occurred decades ago at that very spot. Women weaving long red and blue waves – a representation of peace – that undulate across all paintings, tying them together. It obviously ended up being an excellent work of art – something I don’t forget to stare at as I pass by Camp Aguinaldo.

 Still – I thought – people might look at this artwork and say “So they created a mural for peace. What does that do? What lasting change for peace does it create?” At the end of this project’s first leg, I had to ask myself “What is there aside from a beautified barricade?”


Well, there was a whole family clad in orange, spending Sunday painting messages of peace and teaching each other the true value of community and kinship. There was a squad of uniformed soldiers taking time off to draw symbols of their sincerest desires for the end of armed conflict. A diverse mix of volunteers sat in the shade sharing stories, bottles of water, and pastel – a halal meal popular in many parts of Mindanao. There was a young man fetching a can of Red Bull, ice cold and freshly opened, for a sleepless artist he had never met before.

There was a reverse corporate totem pole: a group of ladies standing on men’s shoulders (for a change), finishing their artwork on higher portions of Camp Aguinaldo’s wall. There was the Philippine rowing team, soldiers themselves, carrying a few of the PWD’s over ledges and obstacles to get them closer to their cement canvas. Let’s not forget the 11 year-old boy, who gave a moving speech on peace and then proceeded to paint different sections of the wall from the beginning of the morning until the first few drops of the late afternoon rain which concluded the day’s events. His smile was so youthful and exuberant that volunteers still smile remembering him.

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At day’s end, what was left were two things… a wall made vibrant and a team of hundreds of people with streaks of colors all over their bodies like veins pumping shades of devotion. As the raindrops fell to conclude Leg 1, there the volunteers stood. A blend of sweat, road smog, water-based paint, and broad grins. Slightly sun-burnt faces lined with greens and blues; knees coated by the browns and grays of soil and dust; fingers soaked in black, red, and yellow… tired from carefully caressing love into the mural. There they shone… the brotherhood of paint.

The goal was to color a wall with a message of peace, but I realized maybe the deeper purpose is to paint peace within people. The mural provides us a visual reminder of our nation’s desire for kapayapaan, but the volunteers can realize this peace in the world – living, breathing portraits of brotherhood that can reach people everyday of their lives. Peace isn’t easy. Change isn’t easy. So why volunteer? Because volunteering is the change. It is brotherhood and unity. It is part of the solution. So come on. Join us. Let’s get some paint on you…

The author, getting his hands dirty on the walls of Camp Aguinaldo
The author, getting his hands dirty on the walls of Camp Aguinaldo

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