Developing young people’s creativity to promote inclusion, diversity and peacebuilding in Mindanao

Maui (first from left) together with SUGPAT learners during the International Day of Peace celebration in Mindanao State University — Maguindanao campus, where they performed a dance puppet and rap number.

“We cannot accept you in this school unless you cut your hair short,” Maui was told when she tried to enroll in a public high school in Zamboanga City in 2004.

Arian Maui Estrellado, 21, is no stranger to discrimination. Because of her gender preference, she was denied enrollment in school thrice: first in grade 6 and twice in high school. Unable to continue her education and traumatized by the repeated rejection, Maui decided to just stay at home to take care of her two younger siblings. “I resigned myself to the fact that my dream of finishing school is unreachable,” she said. 
For two years, Maui was an out-of-school youth. In 2016, she learned about the SUGPAT arts for development program of Ateneo de Zamboanga University and UNICEF, which is supported by funding from ING.

Maui during her audition for the SUGPAT Alternative School for Peacebuilding and the Arts.

SUGPAT is an alternative arts- and creativity-focused learning program for out-of-school youth affected by armed conflict in Zamboanga City. Here, young people learn to value diversity and contribute to peacebuilding among different ethnic groups. The SUGPAT program started as workshops for young people in evacuation centers after the Zamboanga siege in 2013. It has since grown into a program that is now part of the Department of Education’s alternative learning system (ALS) for out-of-school youth.
Maui was chosen as one of the 30 scholars of the SUGPAT Alternative School for Peacebuilding and the Arts in 2016. “When I applied, I was hesitant if they will accept me because of my being transgender. But when I was accepted and started going to Ateneo for our classes, I felt welcomed. It was the first time in years that a school accepted me regardless of my being transgender. For that I am most thankful,” she said.

Maui (center) and members of her class perform in their final recital for SUGPAT. The theatre class presented a stage play adapted from a fable of the Sama Banguingui tribe. The play talked about the importance of family, cooperation, hard work and friendship.

In SUGPAT, Maui was able to complete the ALS program while also developing her creative thinking and peacebuilding skills. “Our art classes not only honed our creativity and talents. It also helped us understand the importance of collaboration, critical thinking and communication. Our peacebuilding classes trained us how to be peace builders and mediators. In my family and community, whenever there is conflict, I make sure that we sit down and resolve it,” she said. 
“SUGPAT is not just a catch-up learning program for out-of-school youth. This is an opportunity for young people affected by armed conflict in Mindanao to contribute to peacebuilding in the region. SUGPAT builds on their talents and passion for the arts so they can be agents of change in their communities,” said Emee Lei Valdehuesa, Adolescents Development and Participation Officer of UNICEF Philippines.

Maui (center) at the 1st Completion and Commencement Ceremony of SUGPAT. With here are (from L-R) Kiko Miranda, Program Director and founder of SUGPAT; Nonoy Casiple, Operations Head of the UNICEF Mindanao Field Office; her mother Analie Estrellado; and Fr. Karel S. San Juan S.J., President of Ateneo de Zamboanga University.

Maui now volunteers in her community while waiting for the results of the ALS program completion exam. If she passes this, she will be able to apply for college.

In SUGPAT, Maui found an opportunity to rekindle her dream of finishing school, and a community that accepted her. “I never felt that I was discriminated. I felt at home. Everyone welcomed me regardless of my being a transgender,” she said. Being in an inclusive and diverse community has helped Maui and her fellow SUGPAT learners to become stronger voices that unite young people in building a peaceful Mindanao.

For more information about UNICEF’s work in the Philippines, visit

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