INTERRUPTED LIVES IN MARAWI (6): Warmth Heals Wounds And Resolves Trauma

A child, with her head on Creating Sinag Within volunteer Kate’s lap, is sleeping soundly. The child’s parents are nowhere to be found. A neighbor shares that the child’s mother hits the child each day so much so that one time the child contracted a fever. Other children have similar stories and they all relish the experience of being held and rocked by Kate. She just finishes talking to another child’s mother who has brought her son to be checked because he has stopped talking. The mother says it happened after the family went to Marawi for a vacation. During the siege the child got separated from his older siblings who are now in a different evacuation center. The child is afraid of leaving the house and always wants to be with his mother.

Malou, another Creating Sinag Within volunteer, gives the child beeswax and watches him mold it. After several minutes, he still can’t form anything. Malou discovers he can say his name and age after all, and nods when she asks him if he has eaten. He’s very attentive during finger games and storytelling. But when he’s with other children, he can suddenly hit them for no reason. “That’s his expression of anger,” Malou explains. “He may be 7 years old but his development and interests are like a three-year old’s. The child’s obviously in shock and is suffering from separation anxiety.” Our medical team decides to watch out for similar children like him.

An evacuee suffers from cold spots all over his body. He’s given a footbath to bring back the warmth and let it spread evenly so that the cold and pain disappear. Photo by Louise L. Far

I strike up a conversation with a police officer who is waiting his turn for a check up. He says he works in Marawi and has been suffering from chronic body pains for years now. His wife, who is with him, tells me that her husband is afraid of needles. “He is my second husband and I am his third wife but he’s so sickly I don’t know why I married him,” she laughs and looks on concerned at her husband who’s being given a foot bath, acupuncture and moxa treatment. As the warmth spreads throughout his body, he feels greatly relieved.

At the end of the day, I join the medical team on its assessment of Day One and speak with individual therapists to get a sense of how the other therapies fared:

Angie: “I treated a man who could hardly walk because his feet were swollen. I gave him a foot bath and then administered acupuncture on him. He thought I was still in high school yet he thanked me for helping people I don’t even know. The next day he could walk unassisted! This is the biggest reward I can get!”

Haime: “I treated a teenager with cold and hot areas all over his body. His girlfriend, whom he met at the center, was with him and held his hand when the acupuncture needles were applied on his body. The next day, he returned for a follow-up treatment; he was very happy yesterday’s therapies helped relieve him greatly.”

Rose: “I treated a mother who is fearful. Since fear is connected to the kidney, I gave her a kidney compress. To make the compress, ginger is pressed, flattened and wrapped in a cloth. It is then tied around the kidney area. A hot water pack is placed over the compress to spread warmth to the affected area of the body. The mother said she felt much better afterwards.”

Acupunture then ventosa therapies help remove cold spots in a patient’s body. Photo by Louise L. Far

Intsik: “One elderly man couldn’t move and I taught him how to move his joints one by one. ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘Yes you can,’ I said. I silently cheered him on as he exerted a lot of effort to follow me. He succeeded! It was an emotional moment for me. ‘It’s only the second time in my life that I have felt this respected, thank you,’ The old man said.”

Dr. Sol: “The elderly are lonely. You can see it in their body language. It’s as if their spirits left their bodies, leaving them with no control of their faculties. We ask, ‘How are you?’ They answer, ‘Okay lang.’ When we prod, they respond: ‘We don’t know what to do. Do we still have a home to come back to?’ We advice them: ‘Help yourselves.’ They want to know: ‘Tell us how?’”

The goal of Creating Sinag Within is to help survivors help themselves by drawing out their inner light (sinag). Warmth is what they lack and so warmth is what we give. We create warmth in the safe and quiet, cool and comfortable therapy rooms where we’ve hung light cloths that sway in the breeze. We create warmth in the kalamansi, ginger, oils, foot baths, acupressure, acupuncture, compress, body talk, etc. that help balance the temperature in their bodies. We create warmth with our herbal medicines and with our healing movement games and songs. We create warmth with our love and respect.

Inday: “Some patients are afraid of needles but because somebody they know had acupuncture and it made them feel better, they eventually decide to give it a try too. As they leave we tell them not to touch water for a day. Some forget or don’t listen and return the next day in pain. But most are very grateful and share that when they got home, they went to bed and had the best sleep for the first time in a long time. They’re so happy they ask, ‘Can you do what you did to me, again please?’”

We appreciate the vote of confidence from patients but in order for the holistic and integrative therapies to work, total body rest is required and so requests like these are appreciated but not indulged.

The popularity of our therapies spreads after more evacuees get wind of them. Soon we have more patients than we can handle. When several of us therapists become sick from the long hours of helping the evacuees with no break, the team decides it’s time to heal ourselves and whatever therapies we give the sick, we take turns giving each other.

On the last day of the Creating Sinag Within mission, we volunteers gather for a final assessment. One by one, we share our wishes for the evacuees whom we will be leaving behind. May they have the strength to keep their inner lights burning. May they continue their healthy rhythms at home and everything else that’s necessary. May they not always be drawn out from their own bodies but achieve a balance of in and out wherever they are and whatever they do.

We realize, however, that recreating a clean, safe, rhythmical environment is only part of the healing. So is giving evacuees holistic and integrative medicines and therapies. Evacuees can’t truly heal and will get sick again if they continue to live in harsh conditions. This natural way to fight their illnesses will take a mind shift. We are ready to help them however we can.

***  Quick Look at Therapies

To give a foot bath, the volunteer wraps the patient in a malong and lets her sit on a chair with feet in warm water potentized with kalamansi. The malong covers the container with hot water and is tied at the chest to contain the warm air.

Depending on what a person is suffering from, the acupuncturist decides what points of the body’s meridian to insert the acupuncture needles. For these meridians are where the energy flows strongest and connects to various organs. Relieving the kidney, for instance, can be done by inserting needless along the feet, legs, and arms. Looking at the ears might also help because they’re affected when the kidneys are affected.

Moxa treatment is lighting up the dried leaves of damong maria and putting them in a container on top of the affected area. It acts like a sauna, spreading warmth to the affected area and the rest of the body.

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. For more information about how to support the next activities of Creating Sinag Within, visit or contact the Founder and Director, Rosan Aliya Agbon at