Maranao in Melbourne helps bring MSU students back to school
MELBOURNE, Australia – Elin Anisha Guro may be more than 5,500 kilometers away, but she is doing her part to bring back normalcy to the besieged city of Marawi.
A PhD student at the University of Melbourne, Anisha started BalikMSU to encourage students displaced by conflict to go back to school and finish their education. (READ: Students walk 32 kilometers to flee Marawi City)
"Balik MSU (Mindanao State University) was initiated by MSU-ans all over the world to encourage MSU students to go back to Marawi City. Together with alumni from Australia, Marawi, Manila, and Singapore, we all came together and tried to help MSU in encouraging our students not to transfer but to return," Anisha told Rappler.
The campaign started when Anisha posted in an online group about ways to help MSU students. People expressed their interest to pitch in, and the funds from alumni and friends slowly started coming.
With the funds they have raised so far, BalikMSU plans to ferry 300 students back to Marawi City from nearby Iligan City, and give T-shirts to the students once classes resume.
"When we posted a callout, the answer was overwhelming. Initially, we were just planning 100 students, but when we sent out the survey, in just a few hours, registration reached 600. So you can see, students are really determined to go back to Marawi City no matter what," Anisha said.
MSU is the 2nd largest state university in the Philippines. MSU Marawi alone has a population of around 18,000 students. Despite the ongoing armed conflict between the military and ISIS-inspired terrorists, MSU Marawi president Habib Macaayong earlier expressed the school administration's determination to resume classes this month.
The crisis in Marawi City entered its 3rd month in August. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the conflict has displaced around 359,680 individuals or 78,466 families as of Friday, August 4.
A native of Marawi, Anisha said she is very much affected by the conflict, especially because her family is still in the city.
"I learned about the clash directly from my daughter. When it happened, my sister just finished visiting the jail in Marawi City as part of her job. That's where the fighting took place. So she was right there when the first fire erupted," Anisha said.
She added: "My daughter was telling me that my sister and my niece were trapped. I was really so concerned and shocked because I couldn't believe that it's really happening."
Anisha, the former vice chancellor for research and extension of MSU Marawi, noted that there have been reports of abuses but it is difficult to get evidence because of martial law in Mindanao.
She also lamented the destruction of the city, which is known for its history.
"The city survived periods of colonization from the Spanish to the Japanese. The city withstood. There was a time people evacuated but it never got so destroyed as it is now," she said.
"As Marawi residents, we also think that the air strikes are unnecessary or could have been avoided, especially to preserve our buildings. These are houses containing cultural heritage that could never be recovered," she added.
How to help
As of now, BalikMSU is waiting for the go-signal of the university administration and the military before they start ferrying students. But Anisha is hopeful that the second semester classes will resume as scheduled.
There is much work to be done. A lot of students have expressed interest to go back to MSU Marawi but don't have resources for the travel back to the city. This is where the public can help.
Citing the case of Paramisuli Aming, the 2017 Social Workers Licensure Exam topnotcher, Anisha said: "We believe that even though there's war, education cannot stop. Even in war, MSU-ans excel."
She added: "This isn't the first time that the university has experienced martial law. This is actually the second time. It happened before and MSU-ans survived. I [know] we will survive this again." – Rappler.com
Those interested to help the BalikMSU project can donate through the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN), a partner non-governmental organization. Filipinos in Australia may contact Anisha Guro via email@example.com for monetary donations.
David Lozada is an Australia Awards scholar taking up a Master of Development Studies degree at the University of Melbourne. Prior to his scholarship, he was a reporter covering development and a community manager for Rappler's MovePH for 4 years.