At an evacuation camp in Shariff Aguak town, a little girl received a new bag for school. But instead of stuffing it with books and school supplies, she reserved the bag for her clothes, so that the next time they hear gunshots she would be ready to run again.
The odds are stacked against the children of Maguindanao. In addition to displacement, poverty hinders the children’s education.
Maguindanao consistently ranks as one of the poorest in the country, with a poverty incidence rate of more than fifty-percent.
Jomar, a 24-year old bakwit (evacuee) whose wife was six months pregnant, described having children as a “way to cope up with poverty.” Boys, like 15-year old Saad whose story we told earlier, are expected to work to help feed their families. Jomar, himself, only finished fifth grade before he had to drop out of school to work.
On top of poverty, schools in the area are few and far in between; some you could barely recognize as schools.
“There’s only one high school in Shariff Aguak,” Dienira, a 15-year old bakwit, said in Tagalog, and it’s more than a kilometer away. Of her many older brothers, only two finished high school.
She has three more years in high school but she hopes to go all the way through and be the first in their family to finish college.
“If given the opportunity, I would like to take midwifery. I just want to help those in need, give first aid,” she said.
Dienira’s sister-in-law is four months pregnant. Like most of the teenagers in their community, Dienira’s brother married before he even turned twenty.
“I don’t want to get married early; those who did regret it. They say it’s not as easy as they thought it would be.”
If she can’t reach college, Dienira sees herself working abroad as a domestic helper, like her mother had done before. “Because that’s the only thing we know how to do, because we have no skills.”
But despite the challenges, the children still know the importance of education.
Janine, a nine-year old bakwit, said she wanted to become a teacher because she doesn’t want other children to learn bad values from the violence in their area.
Rosda, a 13-year old girl who had just graduated valedictorian in an elementary school in Mamasapano, explained why education is an important part of their religion.
“We go to different schools. There’s regular school for English, Math—my favorite subject… to help you in life.Then there’s another school for learning Arabic (called Madrasah). Arabic is important because it is the language of the Qur’an and the key to enter Paradise is to fully understand the teachings of the Qur’an,” Rosda said in Tagalog.
The different schedules of both schools were interrupted by the recent gunfights. Their regular school, Rosda said, resumed in March, more than a month after it was suspended in January; they skipped the final exams and went straight to graduation, but a lot of her classmates she said, remained fearful.
“I hope for continued peace so we can go back to our schools,” Rosda said.
Photos by Dante Dennis Diosina Jr., a Photojournalist of Teach Peace Build Peace Movement and Words by Paul Dawnson Formaran, Writer of Kaya Natin Movement. This was one of the stories gathered to show the impact of conflict to the families especially children from the Mindanao Peace Mission in Maguindanao:
#WHYPEACE Project by the Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement in partnership with Center for Social Concern and Action (DLSU-COSCA), Kaya Natin Movement, ARMM-HEART, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Young Moro Professionals Network.
For more information on their efforts Please contact Ms. Bernadette Fernandez at email@example.com