Peace Mission Reflection by Taj Basman | Photo by Glendford Lumbao
We went to an evacuation center to conduct psychosocial peacebuilding activities for the survivors of the Marawi Siege. We went straight to the gymnasium, where the evacuees are, upon arriving at the venue. What welcomed us is a typical scene in an evacuation center: chaos.
We initially planned to hold the activity in an open area but because it was raining hard, we had to decide whether to push through with the sessions or not. I was almost convinced that the latter one is the better option but, the good thing, the team opted to be flexible and improvise.
A group of 13-15-year-old boys was assigned to me. Halfway through our session, one of the boys noticed that I was coughing (simply because 1. I had to speak loud and 2. I was fasting and could not drink water). And so he asked, “Kuya, nag-pupuasa ka?” (Kuya, are you fasting?). I tried to respond in Maranao, “Uway, aki. Ska?” (Yes, brother. How about you?)
The question sparked a conversation about their struggle to fast at a time like this. They then shared about deeper, more personal experiences such as how some of them are used to being caught in the middle of crossfires due to Rido–but the latest incident is a shock because of the displacement that followed.
It made me realize that it’s my baptism by fire to a human-induced disaster response. They couldn’t fast because they have to grab every opportunity to eat as the next one might not come.
It made me reflect on my reactions to seemingly adverse circumstances. Who am I to complain about a heavy downpour, or to easily give up on a plan just because of problems on overcrowding when these people around me are in a way more complex situation? A reality that they cannot easily escape from even if my teammates and I proceed with the sessions.
This brought me back to my Community Development lessons in college. “We are not messiahs, we are just there to facilitate, not to magically make things better. We are just tools–there to be of help to get them back on their feet.”
Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the situation, how about we highlight the amazing drive of our fellows to continue their struggle to make both ends meet.
While we are contemplating whether or not to get out of our comfort zones, these people are faced with no choice but to leave theirs. While some of us are faced with uncertainties, they are dealing with their own. Uncertain if they’ll still be accommodated by the schools that are now turned into evacuation centers since the school year is about to start.
Yes, it is heartbreaking to see a gymnasium full of people lying on mats, making the sacks of rice they received from relief operations as makeshift pillows, but it’s also heartwarming to hear stories of hope amidst the tragedy they never chose to be a part of.
In Islam, we are taught that the Ummah is like a body–when any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever. One person’s pain torments all of us. We bleed with you, Marawi. We’ll get through this. As we say, we are one with you.