[OPINION] A different Marawi encounter
From a sea of messages, one stood out: "Hi guys! I'm back from Marawi. Sending you the mission stats during our 3-day stay there."
I read it again. It was from Judith Herrera, a friend from college. Over the years we have celebrated birthdays together at the Philippine General Hospital pediatric ward. We would bring food, sing a few songs, and play games with the young patients and their loved ones. I only realized the full import of Judith's message when she sent photos from Marawi – a first-person account in a city trying to rebuild itself from a deadly siege.
This mission of hers was not about a few volunteer hours. It was 3 days in a ruined city. I felt compelled to ask her about her experience.
Judith, a dentist, has been volunteering for Go Share since 2015. As she describes it, Go Share is "a group of individuals from different walks of life and different purposes and talents. We want to serve our countrymen together."
Going to a city that is still recovering from battle, was Judith ever concerned about her safety? Having previously traveled with the Navy, Army and Marines, she said, "I always feel safe when traveling with the military."
For Judith, a more pressing issue was the continuing cost of the war that prompted the 2017 declaration of martial law in Mindanao. She saw Basak Malutlut, the exact barangay where the Maute brothers planned the siege: Marawi's ground zero.
Judith said: "I cried during the tour. The spiritual atmosphere was just so heavy. War is truly ugly and painful. It brings no good thing. The news declared 1,100 dead during the 5-month struggle, but it was actually more than 6,000. Imagine ilang widows and orphans ang naiwan. (Imagine how many widows and orphans were left behind.) There will be children who will grow up even more broken than their fathers."
The community is also seemingly grappling with a sense of rejection. As Judith said, "they feel hated by other Filipinos, even other Muslims, because of what happened. Deep inside, they feel they deserve it."
For 3 long days, Go Share tried to help in coping with loss. They brought medical supplies and food. They did a survey of urgent needs: health care, a clean source of water, and construction materials.
Though there were time constraints, the group was determined to address the emotional and spiritual toll of war. As Judith found, they had 3 needs: acceptance, encouragement, hope.
Judith, who performed dental check-ups and tooth extractions, made time to listen to the children's thoughts, some of which were unexpected.
"During the psychosocial class, they were asked who their superhero is. Most answered, 'the Maute brothers.' My heart sank. But in their belief, what the brothers did was pleasing to Allah, so I guess you can't blame them. All we could do was help teach them how to be peace-loving," she shared.
Aside from the heavy atmosphere in the war zone, a hard part of the mission was both of practicality and acceptance: "Not everyone speaks Filipino. And our Maranao brothers and sisters were not always very warm and trusting, maybe because of what they went through."
For Judith, however, the difficulties were tempered by the reward of altruism. "We were able to show love to our kababayans (countrymen). We were able to let them know that we care. We got to encourage and remind them that there’s plenty of hope, even after the war."
In between storytelling and face-painting, Go Share provided thousands of books to help open children's minds. Judith understands that their work has the potential to mold beliefs. "The kids are the next generation, the future of Marawi. It was important that we taught them about the 3 key ingredients of peace: respect, empathy and unity."
At the end of the mission, Judith had an unanticipated moment of spiritual self-introspection. "Sometimes, the best way to share about your faith is to just be silent and to serve; to see people in the whole gamut of their need and still choose to be with them…to see them as individuals made in God's image, each with potential and purpose, no matter what state of mess they are in. Just pause, be there, smile and love." – Rappler.com
The author is a lawyer and occasional writer.
Go Share welcomes volunteers who want to be of service to different communities in need. Their next missions will take them to Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato and Galimuyod, Ilocos Sur. Contact Go Share through their Facebook Page.