“I wish I could take medicine that can erase all my memories of the siege,” says one of the survivors. There are many, many more like her who experienced the horrors of evacuating amidst bombings and bullets and are now living in uncertainty. They do not have a home, clothing, food, and work that we regular Filipinos take for granted. The evacuees are living in fear, worry, anger. They are indecisive and have difficulty moving on.
The feeling of uncertainty is aggravated by the conditions in evacuation centers: toilets are clogged and stink; showers are dilapidated; drinking water is not enough nor at times safe for human consumption; sleeping areas on cold cement floors are beside dirty open canals; and trash piles up and remains uncollected. Meanwhile, relief workers continue to dole out salty and sugary foods, while music from loudspeakers blast in an attempt to inspire everyone to dance and have a good time.
The survivors are subjected to a double whammy of trauma, first by bombs and bullets, then by evacuation centers. Honestly, I didn’t quite fathom the damage that violence, neglect, overstimulation, and a very bad diet can cause until I saw how the evacuees were living. The effect is heart-wrenching.
When traumatized, adults and children who are usually calm, change so drastically that they no longer seem to be the persons they were before. Our medical team reports that the evacuees suffer from chronic body pains, dizziness, palpitations and rashes, and have difficulty breathing and sleeping. Body temperatures are alarmingly low which lead to low immune system and loss of strength and clarity of thinking. It is, therefore, not surprising that these conditions make them unpleasant, irritable, pushy, short-tempered, unreasonable and emotional. It takes discipline and lot of patience to deal with them. It is also important as part of the medical team to be empathetic to the survivors —never judging nor moralizing.
In one of the evacuation centers, blood pressure rates of adults were alarmingly high and sugar levels were reaching diabetic conditions. There also seemed to be some mass amnesia, with several evacuees forgetting things that happened a day or two ago. We didn’t see these symptoms in our first mission. We did our second mission weeks after the declaration of liberation of Marawi. Expectations of return must have run high, yet the evacuees still find themselves in the same rotten conditions.
For this reason, no one is turned away by Creating Sinag Within volunteers. All evacuees who need help are welcomed no matter how unreasonable they may sometimes appear to be. I remember, for instance, at one evacuation center, only one registration table was set up outside a building while inside the doctors were at their tables waiting to speak with each evacuee. It was a very hot day and Princess, the volunteer nurse at the registration table, was sitting under an umbrella taking each evacuee’s blood pressure and pulse rate and noting them down in the evacuee’s patient record. As more evacuees arrived, a squabble ensued about who was first in line. Princess calmly told them, “Please help us help you by organizing yourselves and let’s give way to those who are very sick especially the elderly and young children.” Still only a few made a move to make room for the elderly and young children. The majority stayed put and reasoned, “I am very sick too.”
In three evacuation sites where we are, Creating Sinag Within mission has turned a barangay hall veranda, a school stage, and a bamboo hut into consultation areas for our doctors to meet evacuees and interview them about their major complaints. Doctors ask each evacuee the same questions: Where is the pain? How long have you been in pain? What and when and how often do you eat? Where and when do you sleep? How do you spend the day? All the evacuees’ answers affirm that they are victims of compounded trauma. The siege has frozen them in many ways and they’re not getting any better also because of their closed living quarters, noise, and pollution. They can’t remember, can’t think clearly, can’t stay calm, can’t speak straight, can’t move well. Like distraught and nervous 18-year-old Fatima.
She visits the doctor with her one month old baby and puts him on a blanket on the table. The doctor coos, “How are you little boy?” “He has been coughing for a week,” Fatima answers for him. She coos and covers her baby with kisses while the doctor reads his patient record. A stethoscope appears and the doctor listens to the baby’s heartbeat, feels his skin, and checks his tongue and ears. Fatima holds her son’s feeding bottle which doesn’t have a cap and the doctor reprimands her lightly, “Where’s the cap? Always put the cap on to keep out the dirt!” The doctor points out breastfeeding is not only healthier but it’s also cheaper than powdered milk, describes how to sterilize the baby’s bottle, shows where to gently press and caress to relieve her baby, then gives a bottle with herbal medicine for the baby’s cough. Fatima, like many other evacuees, is a mother who still needs to be coached on basic childcare especially during moments when she turns blank all of a sudden or gets overcome by emotion.
This happens to a lot of evacuees who drift off in the middle of doing a task, or flare up and lash out when they are stressed. They can be like children who need a loving adult authority to set a good example and tell them how to manage themselves, what’s best for them, what’s right and wrong, etc. We volunteers of Creating Sinag Within have one week to be the best loving authority we can be for highly sensitive, depressed, moody victims of trauma.
Author’s note: A major focus of Creating Sinag Within’s Mission 1 in August 2017 and Mission 2 in October 2017 was providing holistic and integrative healing modalities such as Emergency Pedagogy, Traditional Filipino Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Anthroposophic Medicine. Taking the lead were health workers from various community managed primary health programs in Digos, Kidapawan, and Arakan. They provided natural therapies utilizing warm water, kalamansi, ginger, herbal ointments and concoctions to soothe and warm evacuees through foot baths, acupuncture, acupressure, compresses, and more. At the end of CSW’s second mission, its volunteers saw the importance of meeting with other humanitarian organizations and help each other be more mindful in using appropriate approaches in rehabilitating Marawi. For more information about how to support the next activities of Creating Sinag Within, visit facebook.com/creatingsinagwithin or contact the Founder and Director, Rosan Aliya Agbon at firstname.lastname@example.org.