[PHOTO: In time of 'iftar', a youth volunteer of RMP-NMR distributes food to children of evacuees taking sanctuary at the Amatonding building in Tubod, Iligan City]
The darkened building of the Amatonding Hospital does not convey much of what is happening within its unfinished walls. It could be any structure under construction with a few gas-lighted windows indicating people inside. It could have been construction workers. Except that they’re not.
Around 33 families sought shelter in Amatonding almost a week after the Marawi siege. Unable to bring much of their belongings, they were grateful that the owner of the hospital allowed them to occupy the bare rooms. Despite the lack of electricity and water in the area, they preferred it to the bigger DSWD-registered evacuation centers as it had more room and the families each had a room.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Region, Inc. (RMP-NMR) first learned of the evacuation center through a Maranao volunteer, who knew one of the evacuees. Through initial interviews on June 3, the families shared that since they were not officially registered with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), they have not been reached by relief initiatives. While in some evacuation centers the evacuees have already accumulated a sack of rice, they had not received even a kilo. They were living off help from relatives and friends around the city.
RMP-NMR and its volunteers yesterday, June 6, joined the evacuees for their iftar*, and shared a meal of pater and fruits to all the individuals. With the help of colleagues from the RMP National Office and donors of the #TabangMarawi Appeal mounted by the Permanent Commission on Social Mission Apostolate of Redemptorist in Baclaran, the volunteers also distributed a basic food pack to the families. The evacuees shared that while food is a major need, what relief agencies often overlook are basic utensils they also need daily – plates, spoons, forks, and cooking pots.
“The main challenge in evacuation centers that are not yet registered in the DSWD is the organization of the evacuees,” said April Thessa Diaz, the program coordinator of RMP-NMR. “This would translate to a more orderly distribution of relief goods, easy facilitation of services, and a ready information plan for NGOs that would plan to do interventions in the centers.”
“There is a need to build up connections and gain trust of the evacuees,” said Diaz. “There is a sensitive approach in interacting with the evacuees for cultural and political reasons. Over the materials relief we are giving them, we need to boost their morale as they have been through extreme conditions.”
Many of the evacuees in Amatonding did not immediately have their homes, used to having occasional gunfights near them. Some of them only fled when aerial bombing destroyed their homes and businesses.
RMP-NMR has joined other NGOs in a bigger formation called Kalinaw Mindanao that will hold the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission on June 13-16, 2017.
Kalinaw Mindanao was started in reaction to the All-Out War in Mindanao of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000. The network also responded to the violence that resulted after the breakdown of the peace negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement on the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in 2008.
*Iftar is a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadhan