Miriam Suacito (born 1959), fondly known as "Dedet", saw how her home province, Basilan, was transformed from a peaceful place to a war-torn community where people live in abject poverty and constant fear. She put to good use her training as a psychologist by organizing trauma-healing sessions for war widows and orphans and former hostages of the notorious Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group. Miriam undertakes community-based poverty alleviation programs and implements inter-religious dialogue as a way of fostering peace.
Valentine’s Day 1999 is etched in Miriam Suacito’s mind as the day when the dreaded Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group killed six of her fellow catechists from Tumahubong, Basilan province. The catechists were on their way to an "Alay Kapwa" (Offering for Others) seminar in Isabela, the capital, when they were ambushed. Dedet could not believe how such gentle people could meet such a violent and senseless death. Some were felled by gunshots, some mercilessly hacked with "bolos" (local swords). However, despite the atrocities that some Muslims have committed, ostensibly in the name of their faith, Dedet feels only compassion for her Muslim neighbors in Basilan. She has seen how many of them have suffered in the inter-religious conflict spawned needlessly by misunderstanding and government neglect. "Peace," she asserts, "is the dream of every resident of Basilan, Muslim and Christian alike", and she has worked very hard to bring this about. In 2001, Miriam helped start the Nagdilaab Foundation which has programs on peace and development, human rights, community development, education, research and training, resource development and agricultural production. Nagdilaab’s project, "Recycling War Trash for Peace", was chosen for funding by the World Bank in its search for innovative community initiatives in 2004. The project promotes the culture of peace among the youth in Basilan by developing their earning potentials through creative arts and peace-oriented values. In the hands of the youth, war trash like spent bullets and cannon shells are turned into peace symbols – angels, gongs, flowers and doves. The Peace Advocates of Zamboanga (PAZ) gave her the Peace Weaver’s Award in 1999 saying: "This one woman’s life has been one of witnessing her desire for all peoples to live in dignity, justice, peace and lasting harmony."
Nagdilaab Foundation Inter-religious Dialogue Program of Isabela Prelature