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SMC?Human Rights panel discusses peace

Alicia Smith | Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Three panelists told first hand stories of armed conflict in the Philippines, helping Chilean psychiatric patients, and working with refugees in Pennsylvania during a discussion on human rights Tuesday evening at Saint Mary’s.

The College’s Justice Education Department hosted the panel, titled “Speak Truth to Power: Voices for Peace and Human Rights.”

The panelists, who spoke about their experiences with human rights, included Mayla Leguro, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Andrew Masak, a senior at Notre Dame who has experience with refugee rights and immigration issues, and Laura Snider, a Notre Dame graduate student who worked in Sri Lanka as well as Chile.

Leguro spoke of her experiences in the Philippines. She comes from the island of Mindanao, and discussed the problems related to human rights found there, including conflict between various groups.

“In the island of Mindanao we have four key armed groups that are waging their own wars. The other armed groups are actually engaged in a war of power, ” Leguro said.

According to Leguro, there has been “armed conflict” in the Philippines since the 1970s. “The situation in Mindanao is not … unique in terms of armed conflict. 91 percent of the 81 provinces in the Philippines have been affected by armed conflict,” Leguro said.

Leguro continues to work with the community in Mindanao to help them create a world of peace.

“Everyone has a value and a contribution to the peace process,” she said. “Even those who have guns.”

“Envision the possibilities for peace. This is the kind of challenge that we always issued the youth. You have the space to envision change,” Leguro said to those in attendance.

Like Leguro, Masak, a Peace Studies major at Notre Dame, also works for peace. After graduation, Masak plans to work in Peru and start a nutrition campaign.

“I’m also going to be building a Women’s Association building. There’s already an association that’s actively involved. There are about 40 young women, in the village of 1000 and the valleys of 9000, who are involved in making political decisions,” he said.

“We are going to hope to build a structure that they can actually meet in, that they can have an office in,” Masak said.

Masak became involved in Peace Studies after working with Catholic Charities. He participated in a summer program where he worked with refugee placement in Allentown, Pa.

“[When] I got there, and I was told I was going to be working with refugees and the immigrant population,” he said.

Masak is the president of an undergraduate peace conference at Notre Dame that will be held April 3 and 4.

Snider is currently studying at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame.

At age 10, her mother brought her to Guatemala and El Salvador for three months. Snider said that after noticing how small the children there were, she asked her mother why she was so much bigger than those children. When her mother explained that the ranchers were exporting all the meat, Snider made the decision to stop eating meat.

“If they can’t eat meat than I won’t either. And I haven’t touched red meat since,” Snider said.

Snider began her career by working in Sri Lanka with women whose children were taken by the government.

“This was my first experience with trauma. All of them had known for 20 plus years that their children probably weren’t coming back to them. These women had never been able to get any sense of closure,” Snider said.

After working there for some time, Snider moved to Chile where she worked with psychiatric patients who were used as human test subjects. Later she found herself working with children in New Mexico.

Snider said she is now trying to set up a volunteer program that works with human rights locally.