Organizations address both physical and psychosocial needs of Maranao children
DURING THE FIVE-MONTH long war in Marawi City last year, most of the locals’ hopes and dreams that were built around the city were lost. Reports stated that up to 60 percent of those that were affected by the crisis were children. As the most helpless, they were exposed to violence at a very young age – with some even lured to become combatants of terrorist groups in order to survive.
The large scope of damages both to the city and its people pushed organizations to immediately reach out to Maranaos even before the battle ended. Among the foundations that braved the odds amid the conflict were groups such as Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM) and Modern Nanay of Mindanao. Both initiated comprehensive projects to help displaced children of Marawi by attending to their overall physical and psychosocial needs.
TPBPM aims to institutionalize Peace Education and Peace Building programs in schools and communities. Aside from donating relief goods, the independent and non-profit group’s primary goal is to use arts, sports, games, and community services to teach young war survivors what peace and resiliency are all about. They believe that promoting this culture gives Maranaos a more long-term solution on how to protect themselves and rebuild their lives after all the chaos.
Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, founder and executive director of TPBPM, narrated how children expressed the impact of war on them through drawing exercises that they have conducted.
“Their illustrations ranged from violent scenes that they witnessed, while some drew about dreams of rebuilding their homes, being with their families, and their ambitions for themselves,” she described.
Having experienced conflict firsthand as a child in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during the 1990 Gulf War, Sumndad-Usman understands that it is essential to help Maranao children process all thoughts and feelings related to the recently concluded Battle of Marawi. “Through this, they can be taught about the art of peaceful living and resilience amid and after conflict,” the peace development advocate explained.
Fulfilling Dreams After War
As part of their Peace Education and Peace Building programs, TPBPM also distributes Dream Kits and Hope Kits that serve as symbols to inspire children for the future.
“They need to understand that what happened should not hinder them in fulfilling their dreams,” Sumndad-Usman said. Their group has called for donations for the said kits, which consist of sketch pads, coloring materials, and other school supplies.
Bracelet-making is also one of the psychosocial Peace Building activities of TPBPM in Marawi. This is why materials for making what they call “strength bracelets,” which have Peace and Islamic art -inspired patterns, are also included in the kits.
The kits also carry Plushies for Peace, another initiative spearheaded by TPBPM. The project gathers stuffed toys and distributes them to children affected by stress and trauma. “All these provide a sense of healing for the children.”
Combatting Malnutrition in Evacuation Areas
Meanwhile, another organization focused more on the alarming problem of malnutrition in evacuation centers around Marawi. This was especially true since babies, as well as their mothers, were among those who were most vulnerable during that chaotic time.
“Nutrition is inevitably compromised during a crisis,” said Nadine Casino of Modern Nanays of Mindanao (MNM). The founder of the recognized mother support group explained how a malnourished child is 12 times more likely to die than a healthy child. “While a child with poor nutrition may survive, he is still likely to end up unhealthy and robbed of opportunities,” she added.
Since MNM focuses on children’s health and wellness, they started relief efforts immediately after the Marawi siege broke out. “In order to aid infants and small children, we prioritized nutrition interventions with Maranao mothers who were pregnant and lactating,” Casino shared. Their group was specifically worried about breastfeeding mothers who may be unable to produce milk due to dire conditions in evacuation areas.
Holistic Approach via Malong Care Packs
With their holistic approach, MNM called for donations for Malong care packs. The packages consisted of clothes and toiletries for both the mothers and their babies, as well as diapers, food, and water. Hygiene products and underwear for the mothers were also important as they are often not prioritized during relief operations. The items are then wrapped up in a Malong, for several reasons. “First, it is functional and can be used as a sarong, a mat, or a baby carrier or swing, or a cover while changing clothes, and so on,” Casino enumerated.
Malongs also apparently play a symbolic role in Maranao culture. “When a baby is born, he or she is wrapped in a Malong,” the Cagayan De Oro native explained. MNM also gave Malongs as a gift to mothers who attended counseling sessions that were conducted amid the Battle of Marawi.
Sharing Breast Milk
While some well-meaning individuals wanted to donate formula milk, the group’s long-running advocacy of promoting breastfeeding made them focus more on educating mothers on how to produce more of it. Casino was able to prove the wonders of breast milk firsthand when she had to nurse a severely sick two-year-old child from an evacuation camp.
“We saw how bad she was affected by the crisis – undernourished and almost at the brink of death,” she recalled.
The mother-of-two then shared her breast milk to the child, who happily consumed it. “We saw her spring back to life little by little — from sitting up, to gaining an appetite for food, to having a glow on her cheeks… until she was able to stand and run again,” Casino gushed. “It was the best feeling.”
Building a Future for Marawi
It has been three months since the battle in Marawi ended. For MNM and TPBPM, their continuous efforts all intend to protect the future of Maranao children after the war-related ordeals they have suffered.
“We believe that our efforts somehow make things better for these children, who are the future of Marawi,” Casino expressed.
Sumndad-Usman pointed out that the best way to ensure a brighter future for Marawi is to instill the importance and benefits of peace among Maranaos while they are still young. “If we want our children to use non-violent solutions in response to the different forms of conflicts we have in our society, we have to teach peace as their way of life.”