Keeping high the children’s hopes

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 15 Sept) – More than 90 children of evacuees are gathered at the temporary shelter provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as a makeshift day care center at the heart of the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex here.

“They are just some of the children of the evacuees here in the complex to whom we are providing learning activities to. It’s like a temporary class for a day care center, where we give them activities like drawing, writing, coloring, and some reading or story-telling,” said Anne Aguilar, a volunteer teacher.

Aguilar works at Bethany Child Development Center, one of the private schools in the city providing primary education.

The activities, Aguilar explained to MindaNews, are creative diversions for children and at the same time one way to keep them safe and intact while parents are queuing for food, medicines, blankets, mats, and other supplies.

The DSWD Day Care Center at the evacuation site is headed by Grace Ojales, who heads the San Jose Gusu Day Care Center. The Center was established to keep the children’s hopes high, so that trauma will not be deeper, shared a DSWD worker who refused to be named as she preferred that her office’s purpose in putting up the center be emphasized.

“Other teacher-volunteers are nursing students from the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU),” Aguilar added.

Another student-volunteer from the Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology (ZSCMST), Ibno Nurham, told MindaNews that children are also grouped together not only for them to do creative activities amid the tension at the complex, but to complement the standing rule in the provision of supplies for evacuees who are not allowed to queue with children in tow as to control the supply distribution and ensuring that every family gets a pack.

Meters away from the makeshift center is a smaller tent with the fewest number of persons lining up, the Women-Friendly Space.

One of the volunteers stationed there, Lulu Mangaoang, said that the there are only a few women lining up in the area because it is “a space dedicated for lactating mothers.”

“We are providing in this area malunggay arroz caldo, which is proven to be nutritious for lactating mothers. Malunggay kasi ang nagpapagatas sa mga buntis (Malunggay enables a pregnant woman to lactate),” she said.

Across the fields are more than 24,000 persons from 6,000 families, all internally displaced due to the armed conflict in six communities in Zamboanga City between government troops and combatants from three commands of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Food and water supply have continuously been given by the city government through its various offices, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Tzu Chi Foundation through its Zamboanga City Office which is the first socio-civic group responder, and many other volunteer organizations.

The conflict is now on its seventh day, and while no ceasefire was ever officially declared and neither has the city been declared in a state of emergency, the exchange of gunfire has minimized this day.