Ambon, Indonesia 1999: sectarian violence erupts, Christians and Muslims battle through the streets and the entire chain of islands in the province of Maluku, where Ambon is the main city, fighting seemingly engulfed the region. Three quarters of a million people were displaced by the outbreak and an estimated 5,000 lives were lost. Tensions were high, and help was needed. UnitingWorld, a division of The Uniting Church in Australia, responded to the violence with humanitarian aid and a call for peace between both neighbors and faiths. A peacebuilding organization was established called Maluku Ambassadors for Peace, and at the center of this movement was Joy Balazo.
A native of the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao, Balazo emerged as a leader in the Pacific region as a voice for peace through her involvement in the Uniting Church in Australia. For over twenty years, Balazo has worked not only with the Uniting Church in Australia, but also with UnitingWorld, an organization created by the Uniting Church in Australia as an aid organization for the region. Ten years ago, Joy established the Young Ambassadors for Peace, acting as their leader and working with local communities to establish eight peacemaking centers in Asia and the Pacific.
Balazo has also worked to bring together 32 clans in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea that helped end tribal conflicts in the area. She has also worked in the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, the Thailand-Burma border, Northeastern India, Timor Leste and Bougainville. Because of these and countless other tireless actions in the name of peace, Joy Balazo has been chosen as the 2012 recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award.
First awarded in 1977, the World Methodist Peace Award is given semi-annually to a person or persons who have displayed courage, creativity and consistency in pursuing peace and equal rights for individuals throughout the world. Past recipients have included former United States of America President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Balazo recently returned to her home in the Philippines to work in Mindanao amongst the indigenous Subanen people of the Zamboanga Peninsula supporting their efforts for peace and sustainable livelihood. The struggle for peace will not be an easy one, but for Joy Balazo, it never has been. In Ambon, there was killing in the streets, but a decade later she is still used as a mediator to help resolve conflicts amongst Muslim groups. Her thirst for peace is one that crosses the lines that are sometimes drawn between tribes, between states and between faiths, and for her tireless work the World Methodist Council is proud to award her the World Methodist Peace Award.