I was scheduled to join the Friends Peace Teams Face to Face gathering this month before COVID-19 happened. For around three months, I tediously prepared the documents for the US Visa application with the help of the FPT-AWP coordinating team. But I felt conflicted from the start. Why do I have to establish my credentials and my reasons for coming back to my country through documents? Why is it that integrity needs to be proven in a timed interview? Is it worth my time to go through the process considering the money and time dedicated for the preparations?
After a while, I decided to give the application a try with a lighter and more curious perspective. A visa application is an opportunity for me to relate with people different from myself and also share about the work of Friends Peace Teams. The application was not all about me, it was about FPT! I reviewed all the documents and prepared everything with care, not out of my rigidity but to reflect our work on peace and justice!
So, on the day of the interview I felt very relaxed and open. I noticed the people around me. I was very patient and curious. I noticed that the atmosphere changed when it was our batch’s turn to enter the building. People can get too focused with their goals of getting an interview. I saw to it that I greeted the staff and those around me because these are foundations of making friends, not enemies.
When I relaxed and was curious about each station where I needed to go, the people assigned there were warm and friendly. They repeated instructions patiently and laughed with me if I made mistakes.
At the interview proper I greeted and smiled at the visa officer in a calm manner. I practiced greeting in order to connect with him. I shared with him that Friends Peace Teams is composed of people of love and conscience who believe that peace is possible. That I was going to visit the US to share about how this work is done on this side of the world. That the theme of my visit to the various groups revolved around peace and justice work and how communities willingly practice peace in our own contexts. The officer was very surprised that this spirit of volunteering for peace and justice exists!
My interview lasted for less than 10 minutes but I felt like I was talking to a friend. His questions were very open, and I answered calmly and honestly. He didn’t ask for any supporting document. When he wrapped up the interview, I can feel that he too was very excited for the trip that I planned to make.
I was interviewed on March 9th 2020, and received the visa by courier on the 11th. The following week, a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) was declared for the entire Philippines and other countries. So the trip was postponed indefinitely. I serve as the Coordinator of Friends Peace Teams in Asia West Pacific and interact regularly with teams across the Philippines, Petrus, Nanik, and Ratih in Indonesia, Thea Rumere in West Papua, Malanie Siaw in Malaysia, Valerie Joy and Jane Drexler in Australia, Rosie Remmerswaal and John Michaelis in Aotearoa/NZ, Park Jungjoo in Korea, Rustam Musaev in Chechnya Russia, Chris Hunter in the UK, and Nadine Hoover in the US, as well as over a dozen others who serve on Friends Peace Teams AWP Working Group.
I would love to visit with your Quaker meeting or other social groups and gatherings of friends to exchange what we are learning about creating cultures of peace and justice around the world today. We’re getting really good at reaching out over Zoom. Please write to Asia.Coordinator [@] FriendsPeaceTeams.org to schedule a time to visit over the internet.