FIELDS OF HOPE: Feeding a hundred children not her own

“It takes an innate concern to withstand the heat and fatigue of feeding children not your own, not just one or two, but almost a hundred.  Not just once, but everyday,” she wrote.Jainab was referring to Babuh Balma and the children of war who are languishing in various evacuation centers in Jolo due to on-and-off armed encounters between government troops and some factions of the Moro National Liberation Front.

In this harshness of life and human suffering, this Tausug woman has never given up hope. Jainab continued, “But to Babuh Balma, with a glimmering hope in her face, as she leads a group of mothers prepare food for children of evacuees, the work is light. She can laugh at any given time. She proudly says they have cleaned up the woods nearby to use as firewood.

She even happily told Jainab how pleased she is “just merely looking at hungry children, eagerly awaiting for their bowl of porridge with vita meal (from Ma’am Milet of Tabang Mindanaw), hands already washed as part of the routine to make sure hands are free from dirt. And to see them eating the nutritious porridge, “Bya sin bukun sila paguy” (As if they were not evacuees).”

Miss Milet Mendoza is the coordinator of Tabang Mindanao projects in Jolo and Tawi-Tawi.  During the all-out-war in Pikit in 2000 and the Buliok clash in 2003, Tabang Mindanao also fed thousands of children of displaced families.  Milet was also the coordinator and she worked with Muslim and Christian volunteer mothers.

Babuh Balma is poor and yet she is rich in compassion. She “felt dignified serving the IDPs “Pasal, way ikatabang ko kanila dain sing sangsa” (I have nothing to help them except with my labor).”

Jainab also mentioned the boy she met in evacuation center. “I met Anisal, a two year old boy with skin disease, crying from time to time because of itchiness and, yet, pacified every time her mother hands to him a single toy he considers a jewel (a toy given by Wahoo). Anisal was born at the same school where his parents evacuated two years ago,” she narrated.

Then she continued, “I met a lot of school age children who talked about going to school when school opens in June. There were no uncertainties on their faces, only hope. Where this hope comes from, I am not sure but I wanted to learn and bring that back with me.” (“Fields of Hope”  is Fr. Roberto C. Layson’s column for MindaViews,  the opinion section of MindaNews. Father  Layson is former parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato and presently the coordinator of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates' Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is the 2004 Ninoy Aquino Fellow for public service.)