In violent circumstances and in massive displacement, the most vulnerable are children and women. They are emphatically associated with each other, are defenseless, and emotions are easily injured by panic and fears.
Looking back, the Marawi siege refract a historic reality of 534,127 displaced persons or 117,875 families based on July 21, 2017 report of the National Disaster Risk and Reduction Monitoring Center (NDRRMC) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The subsequent lock-down following martial law declaration and the siege’s impact to provincial economy uncontrollably increased the figures of evacuees.
Of that figures, 49% were children forced to dwell in 89 evacuation centers and in 378 barangays in eight reported regions. Most of them stayed with relatives while some families rented apartments in hope that the siege will last less than a week. Apparently, it didn’t.
The social welfare and NDRRMC further reported that in July 21, 2017, the displaced children of Marawi summed at 26,456 learners. Of this data, 9,061 learners sought refuge in BARMM region with their families and these are broken down into 5,855 children-evacuees in District 1 and 3,206 children in District 2 of Lanao del Sur.
NDRRMC also documented 4,826 learners who evacuated in Region 10. They ‘re distributed in various evacuation camps and households in these figures: 5,700 in Lanao del Norte; 4,950 in Iligan City; 3,017 in Cagayan de Oro City; and 10 in El Salvador City.
There were also reported 34 children-evacuees who went with their families in Misamis Occidental; 586 in Misamis Oriental; 145 in Malaybalay City; 155 in Bukidnon; 56 in Ozamiz City; 60 in Oroquieta City; 16 in Gingoog City; 8 in Tangub City; and 76 in Valencia City.
There were also tracked 2,569 learners who opted to join with their parents in moving to other regions in Luzon and Visayas.
These data exclude infants in displacement.
Meanwhile, humanitarian researchers and mental-health experts cited a significant number of children in evacuation centers to have suffered preventable diseases, malnutrition, exposure to skin diseases, reported cases of schizophrenia, and psychological issues ranging from stages 1 to 4.
The health cluster dealt on children that were affected by upper respiratory tract infection, skin diseases, acute respiratory infection, acute watery diarrhea, and cases of cholera.
Children suffered hunger, malnutrition, and illnesses in congested evacuation sites because most parents lost their economic base and became reliant only on available humanitarian aid, specially in the first six months of displacement.
There were also a significant number who stopped attending school due to prevailing circumstance while those who bear the family name of suspected Maute members, as an ISIS-affiliated group, suffered stigmatization and unjust “criminalization” on the basis of their personal identities.
Experts on child rights protection also documented 16 alleged cases of child trafficking but 7 of which had accordingly returned to their parents.
Mental health and psychosocial care
Maradeca Inc., along with its partners, is one of the 169 active civil society organizations that have contributed in humanitarian intervention for internally displaced peoples’ protection through relief operations, psychosocial and mental health care, education, WASH and sanitation, emergency shelters, camp coordination and management, early recovery, and livelihood assistance.
In the context of Marawi siege, its humanitarian operation focused in Lanao provinces and Marawi areas.
It partnered with Plan International, Save the Children, and other local stakeholders in the conduct of psychosocial intervention for women and children.
Maradeca Inc. organized and trained 100 of Maranao women — those who were immediately able to bounce back from the siege and were ready to serve and to be in direct contact with other displaced women and children from 24 most affected barangays of the city. These were those who were perceived situated in an extremely distressed circumstances.
Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) and Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) were then established so that counseling and listening sessions could be made possible.
These WFS and CFS are in barangays Pindolonan and Dayawan of Marawi city; barangays Bago-a-Ingud and Ginaopan of Ditsaan Ramain town of Lanao Sur and in barangay Tarik of Buadiposo-Buntong, Lanao del Sur where IDPs opted to relocate themselves.
Citing Maradeca’s earlier report, this humanitarian initiative ensures that women and children have the opportunity to narrate their experiences for emotional and psychological relief; are not discriminated in protection services; and, the intended social measures from clusters are delivered for their welfare.
The organization’s staff had applied the Child Protection Risk Assessment Guidelines to establish the “risk context, identification, analysis, evaluation and treatment” as part of the standard “risk management analysis consistent to the mandates of Child Protection Policy.”
Abdensa Mipangcat was a working student in Marawi before his family was displaced during the siege. In a conversation, he shared his insights as a facilitator of a child friendly space (CFS) for IDPs, like him, who relocated in Ramain, Lanao del Sur.
In a focus group discussion with representative-facilitators of WFS and CFS, they consensually expressed constructive appreciation of a comprehensive provision of psychosocial process that doesn’t limit only in providing personal and group counseling.
“The space also became an educational venue for both children and adults. In some days, the space is utilized for children’s basic literacy, games, creative arts, values education, and physical activities,” said Abdensa Mipangcat, children facilitator of barangay Ginaupan of Ramain town.
The teens were able to learn too of their basic rights as children, issues on illegal drugs, and illegal trafficking concerns, he added.
Adults, on the other hand, professed to have learned much on maternal and child health care; sanitation and waste management; gender rights and women’s empowering roles; family planning and time management.
“Although we are displaced from different areas of Marawi but taking a refuge in this municipality also introduced us to new friends who are also displaced like us,” said Hania Usman, a 13-year old child.
“Children and adults alike are learning our lessons. We became busy thinking on what we’re going to do with our lives. We felt like we forget our issues for awhile and it lighten our feelings,” expressed Aisah Dianalan, a mother now relocated in Ramain.
Parents present during the focus group discussion also said that being organized made it more “accessible for us to receive relief goods, supplies for children, some social services, and assistance to build our temporary shelters.”
In 36 sessions-modules for all CFS, children from ages 3-17 were encouraged to play, share their stories, and learned though in informal setting.
“Masaya naman kami. I earned many friends in the CFS and nakikipagsamulaha na din,” said Usman in barangay Guinaupan.
“We recovered our self-esteem; learned hygiene and sanitation. We also debated on gender roles and our rights,” said Ahmad Abdulcarim, 15-year old teen in barangay Dayawan.
“We learned values and dealing with others improve our feelings or reduced our trauma,” expressed Jehan Lomangco, a 14 year old lass.
“We became more disciplined and we learned to assert our rights as children and against unjust discrimination,” said Jubair Usman, a 14-year old child.
Socialization derived from these sessions was expected by adults as a restoration process for children’s ideal thoughts believed by psychologists as essential to emotional health. Mental health experts argued that “being supported and cared give unique and satisfying impression of recognition and affirmation from admired adults who become a guiding influence and fountain of pride from the most basic unit of socializing influence.”
“We struggled to inculcate in our children qualities (virtues) and competencies that have become important to us even in informal settings because we try to help repair the psychological and emotional injury or trauma caused by war and displacement,” said Mipangcat.
“There were 282 children who benefited the psychosocial activities in barangay Bagoingud; 200 children in barangay Tarik; 307 children in barangay Ginaupan; 228 children in barangay Pindulonan; and 308 in barangay Dayawan,” reported Hanah Talib, project coordinator of Maradeca Inc.
There were also two teens who were referred to professional experts for medication after being diagnosed of severe trauma.
“These teens were situated at Marawi’s heart of the conflict zone and the psychological disturbance brought by violence was too overwhelming for them to emotionally cope. They are continually assisted for medication,” said Sanie Maruhom, project officer.
“One of this case was patiently being cared by a solo parent,” she added.
Humuhugot ng lakas
Globally, parents expect their children to be the source of pride to their families.
“In our case, while we are at this situation, sa kanila din kami humuhugot ng lakas,” said Dianalan.
Truly, its difficult to measure the depth of emotional injury and disturbance from children specially those who are shy and those who felt not comfortable to talk.
Its more difficult to determine the needed reparative process for those who are in restrictive mode of relations; those who experienced internal fragmentation; and, from those who are emotionally conflicted or “silenced.”
Psychologists however believed that “child’s hopeful sense of the future, in this optimal circumstances, are the child’s behavior predominantly guided by his anticipation and active seeking of affirming experiences and positive emotions, rather than seeking escape of relief from painful experiences.”
Those who are able to bounce back from this process, their psychological health are likely able to recognize the temporal nature of emotional distress and that through supporting adults, they can be better and need not be sad or angry.
Protracted displacement and adjustments to hard life indeed challenge child’s emotional resiliency.
Up until we can see all children sharing good feelings about his self and others and are able to form positive expectations, then perhaps, other variables for psychosocial health can be surmounted.
Read related story: Repairing the invisible part of Marawi siege’s destruction (2nd part)