Mihaima. She is a curious 9yr old. Right away she jumps on the wall next to me as I sort medicine. 10 pills in every sachet.
“What is your name?”
“Adam. Ano pangalan mo?”
“Mihaima…” She stops and smiles before jumping down and running off.
After awhile I take off my sunglasses and keep working: 7…8…9…10 pills sorted without contaminating them. Grab a new sachet.
“What is your name?”
“Adam. You are Mihaima?”
She is back this time with her brother who whispers something to her while I continue to sort, seal, sort and seal.
“Are you my man?” She repeats aloud to me.
“No” I reply, “I’m here to help”
“Are you my money? What is your money?”
“I have medicine: gamot “
“What is your name?
“Adam. Ano pangalan mo?”
“Mihaima,” she smiles pleased that we had a conversation that tested both of our language skills.
“Adam. This my sister”
“Ako si Adam, Ano pangalan mo?”
Emboldened by each other they reach out and poke my freckles, laughing, and pointing at my blue eyes as only two curious children who’ve never seen a harmless, friendly foreigner up close can.
Mihaima and Nurhaida are two of the many children of the 400,000 people affected by the widespread airstrikes during the Marawi siege.
They’ve been living with their families at an evacuation camp since they were evacuated in May 2017. Millions of dollars in aid has been given by international organizations and foreign governments yet only meager low quality rations and destitute living conditions exist for the evacuees. Where is the money going?
Nurhaida and Mihaima’s family just want to go home, even if there is no home standing after the destruction.
“What is our money”
I smile. “No no, this is just medicine. Kung sakit mo.”
They pose for pictures with other missioners. I ask them to if I can take a picture with them…they run away.
Just Arrived at the site, yet already turning to leave? No -to get the intake forms of patients who patiently wait for doctors but have zero patience for injustice.
Children wandering the site, I perch Phone in hand to photograph the medical services. Mothers, daughters, sons, soon to be mothers, soon to be older sisters and brothers. What will they tell their children? How will they remember the days they fled from violence and death? Will the children remember? What do we say in the face of aerial bombings that are used by “peace keeping forces” that force us to scavenge for pieces of our lives, of dignity, of humanity destroyed in the name of a war on terror that sows what it claims to fight.
Medicine in both hands a little boy stares at me. A smile offered, a gesture costing me nothing given to someone who’s family has lost almost everything. Given, received and returned.
Well we are now officially past All Hollows, Saints and Souls days so that means there are no more holidays from here until Christmas in the Philippines. Of course that didn’t discourage malls from setting up Winter Holiday decorations as early as September, and playing songs that I have already grown sick of…yes especially you oh pop version of Little Drummer Boy.
To Decorate or not to decorate. The holidays just don’t feel like something I should celebrate on my own. My idea of celebrating Christmas is very much tied to my identity as part of a family unit. I am so used to decorating with Shaw family decorations, that in a way, home holiday decorations don’t seem ‘real’ without that familiarity of decorations that have been built put up for as long as I can remember. Yes, ornaments get updated, wreaths appear, some older decorations make way for new ones…yet the overall feeling of it remains the same. Probably because the main decoration architect is my mother.
I haven’t decorated for Christmas at all in the 6 years that I’ve been living away from home. I do put up ‘Christmas lights’ but I use them as lighting in seasons other than Christmas. This year, I will not be celebrating Christmas with family.
I do want to celebrate and decorate and I hope I can find some simple decorations that move me to remembering Advent and celebrating Christmas. No, I will not be buying a fake Christmas tree. I hope to get some Christmas lights and a few things to put around the house. I still don’t know how to handle Christmas without cold weather, yet the meaning of Christmas isn’t tied to the weather…although it seems most of popular Christmas & holiday songs are tied to it somehow (Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland etc…)
Tons of people have a tropical holiday season, Hawaii thrives on it 🙂 I just need some good ideas for tropical Christmas decorations, and I need an adventurous and open mind to try out my own way of decorating, knowing that it’s okay if it’s not as nice, artistic, well planned or as tasteful as how my mother decorates. I need to learn how to appreciate the decorations I come up with as well. I already picked up a scented candle that throws a cozy light and pleasant aroma around the house. I don’t know what I’ll do for a tree, or if I even want one but…
This past September 12-21, 2017 I relocated from Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines to the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City, Philippines. I moved from the relative comfort of my apartment to the intense discomfort of living in a camp, the central ‘Kampuhan’ of this year’s Lakbayan
‘Lakbayan’ by Sandugo, an Alliance of National Minorities of the Philippines, is a three week long event taking place in Manila and hosted by UP Diliman wherein national minorities from all parts of the Philippines journey to Manila to air their grievances, lobby the government and affect change to administrative policies that impact their daily lives.
‘Lakbayan’ is an opportunity for national minorities to create news in the political heart of the Philippines, to give birth to waves of change that in turn can breathe life into their traditional ways of life: traditions on the verge of being extinguished due to long practiced national policies of discrimination, oppression and impunity.
I flew into Manila airport the evening after the tropical depression ‘Maring’ inundated the National Capital Region and surrounding areas. I was advised by InPeace (Initiatives for Peace – my placement organization) staff onsite to seek other lodging as the Kampuhan was completely flooded with 1.5-2 feet of water. Therefore I arrived to the camp on the following day, Sept. 13.
Immediately I noticed how large and well organized it seemed, despite not being able to find the proper entrance right away (I attribute that to my tagalog illiteracy, and my skills in getting lost when I don’t know where I am.) I was struck by the welcoming atmosphere and the overall busyness of the Kampuhan.
With the Museo Lumad flanked by the main tent & stage across from the registrar and media center, the entrance was hopping place bustling with students, visitors and volunteers from many walks of life.
Who knows? There were probably some undercover policeman or NBI agents there as well.
Jeepney riding to DLSU
I joined the Save Our School steering committee and took part of activities that the Save Our Schools network joined. Lumad schools, and protecting them from President Duterte’s promises of violence upon them, was one of the focal points of this years Lakbayan. There were Lumad scholars present at the Kampuhan for the duration, attending temporary classes at the participating colleges UP-Diliman and the University of Santo Tomas with volunteer teachers from the faculty of those as well as Lumad schools teachers who accompanied their students.
Despite the many difficulties the Lumad scholars and teachers faced in both getting to Manila (some were refused entry to the airport by National Police despite having all necessary paperwork) or staying there (with the Office of the President leaning heavily on the Department of Social Welfare and Development to find reasons/made up paperwork? the children needed to return home or were ‘kidnapped’ by the people entrusted by their guardians) the Lumad scholars made a profound impact on visitors to the Kampuhan and on students and faculty of the schools they in turn visited.
Once such school, De La Salle University (DLSU), I joined for the forum, presentation and culture night there. DLSU is known as a prestigious school in Manila. If not for their academics & intramurals, than it must be for their wealthy alumni and ‘elite’ student body. I am grateful to the local DLSU students who made it possible for us to visit, and to the professors, mostly from the Literature department, for requiring their students to go. I only hope that it was meaningful, perhaps even unexpectedly so, to those who were able to attend.
United Methodists visit the Kampuhan:
On September 17th United Methodists from Manila area churches organized a visit to the Kampuhan. It was touching for me to see that so many people in the United Methodist church are cognisant of and willing to learn more of the reality of the struggle of national minorities in the Philippines. As a United Methodist missionary serving in Mindanao, I am saturated in the struggle of the Lumads, especially as I am serving at the Save Our Schools Network, a project of the Advance (#3022305) so it was a rare moment to enjoy the company of my fellow United Methodists while being immersed among the people I am in ministry with. It was a blessing to reconnect with a former Global Mission Fellow, current Global Ministries missionaries, United Methodist Women, men, young people and clergy. I especially appreciated the community (and eating!) after their visit as we joined together in fellowship, reactions, reflection and prayer.
One of the things that struck me from their visit is hearing directly from people how impressed they were that I lived and slept at the Kampuhan. The conditions at the camp were hard. I suppose they were impressed that a non Filipino, non minority, person of a degree of affluence (because I could afford a hostel if I really wanted too), would remain steadfast in those conditions.
It is not an exaggeration to call it squalor. It wasn’t 100% squalor perhaps but the conditions were very hard at the camp. I would have welcomed going home after the first day, or sleeping in a hostel and commuting every day.
Yet, as a Methodist missionary and a person faith I am called to be in solidarity and marching alongside oppressed people…and in the Philippines, national minorities are oppressed. That solidarity is made stronger by sharing meals and sleeping next to my oppressed brothers and sisters. So steadfastly, barely, I survived the relatively short time I was there through the unbearable head & humidity, the putrid latrines, the incomprehensible overnight construction, speeding and jackhammering, and the gag inducing smell of waste, rotting food and urine.
While my Lakbayan experience was…difficult because of the conditions, it was necessary and good to be in solidarity with the people of Sandugo. I was blessed to hear from fellow United Methodist who may have found inspiration in my commitment to be in solidarity with the people (although honestly a lot of it was just stubbornness to not give up right away.) Whatever thoughts Kampuhan inhabitants and visitors experienced from my presence is not diminished by my own feelings of inadequacy or weakness for wanting to give up. The bottom line is, I made it until the end. Sure, I switched to sleeping outside in my hammock to on a piece of cardboard for the last two days…but in a way that itself is part of the message of solidarity, the call for justice and peace, and working for God’s Kingdom on Earth.
It is not always easy, and I might want to give up often. Yet others will be inspired by the times I choose difficulties, solidarity and steadfastness. Together we support each other and through God all is possible. Even peace and justice for national minorities in the Philippines.
Stop Lumad Killings! Protect Lumad Schools! No to Martial Law!
Last week I finally hit the fabled “wall” of homesickness. It is a relief honestly – the first stint I did here back in ’11 I hit that wall right away, so spending almost 9 months here without it made me feel both gratified and a little on edge for if it would ever come.
Perhaps because it was my birthday month (29!) or perhaps because my home-latitude (home-lat) is entering my favorite season of autumn, whatever the cause, it was compounded by my feeling under the weather with a swollen throat and cough. That mundane illness procured my homesickness.
Surprisingly, going to church helped fix that. It had been about 4 Sundays since I was able to attend a Methodist church. I was on vacation for 2 Sundays and then I was in Manila for work during the last 2 Sundays. It was a steadfast reassurance to be back at church, to see friendly faces and share some conversations with people that I know albeit only from 1-3hrs on Sundays.
As far as communities go, it’s not that much yet at the same time it reminds me of similar church communities in my home-lat and that, dear readers, plus the messages of support on my FB and personal emails from family was just enough to lift me over the wall.
This week I head back to teaching. Unfortunately my trusty macbookpro has been having many serious problems after updating to Sierra 10.12. I’ve had that thing for 6 years now and it has quite the data I need on it. Whatever happened to my laptop also corrupted my backup, but luckily for a fee the service center is backing up my files before they try to fix my laptop. Their initial scans shows that all was well with the hardware (except for the battery but c’mon it’s 6 years old!) so here’s to hoping I do not have to buy a new laptop. I really love my old macbookpro!
Back to teaching- all my lesson plans are on that computer. I will just have to teach by the sweat of my brow and quite possibly we’ll be doing review because I haven’t taught for a month and am lost to where my students are. I think I will also be switching to only teaching grades 10 & 11 physics and earth science. We will see.
In the meantime, I am using this cool windows laptop that I have no idea how to get the most out of, and trying to remember all the things that I have stored on my macbook whilst maintaining a level of work that doesn’t get me fired during this data less jaunt.
Autumn is starting and I miss it dearly but I would appreciate any pictures you might take of your autumn-time! If you feel generous please share them to me by emailing me at email@example.com. I will only be looking at them, not posting or anything – It’s like sending me a homemade card that gets here right away. I hope that I get to live autumn vicariously through you, dear readers.
Hello to the readers of my sporadic blog. I have a lot of news to share. Well mainly many thoughts on my only news: the start of my high school teaching career.
I began my teaching career at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao two weeks ago. Previously I had formally taught zero classes and received no training in how to be a secondary or primary educator.
My first week of school consisted of:
Going to a faculty
Finding out my teaching schedule and classes (6th, 7th, 9th,10th and 11th)
Losing my appetite, stressing out and feeling anxious about how unprepared I am to teach
Asking God to take me home 🙂
Enjoying the company of the students
Getting rained on
Basically being soaked either from sweat or from rain.
I still feel rattled from my first week of teaching. I am only teaching Thursday and Friday but still getting a nice 10 hrs a week in. I felt very unprepared, out of my element, worried my students wouldn’t learn anything, trying to learn the school system in the Philippines, trying to learn how to teach in English or Bisaya, learning how to do science labs in a zero resource classroom and adapting foreign subject books to relevancy in my student’s lives and future.
I just finished my second week and am getting ready to go back on Wednesday, meanwhile while working the rest of the week applying for grants and aiding the InPeace Davao office. I find I am having moments, like last night when I wondered if this is what my teachers were thinking/worried about when I was in high school? Did they stay up at night worried I wasn’t going to learn anything.
I gave my 6th graders a straightforward quiz on Friday, made even easier by a review we had on Thursday..which I know about 70% cheated on or failed outright…how do I proceed from here? I have decided to give them a talk about how imperialists and corporations will be happy they have decided not to study at all and skip class, that education one of the best ways to upgrade their struggle for self determination. Is it too much of a reality check? Perhaps.
I find myself constantly thinking to what depth do I go for subject matter, especially for 6th and 7th my general science classes. For my 9th grade Chemistry, my 10th grade Physics and my 11th grade Earth science,
I wrack my brain and scour the internet looking for experiments & labs we can do in a zero resource classroom.
I feel like I won’t ever get used to being called “Sir.” I bivouac on the campus for 2 nights, in my hammock and mosquito net. God knows I prefer sleeping outside because in the dorms it is so HOT! No fans, breeze or A/C. Dawn finds me waking up early to scrawl out thoughts and trying not to stress out too much about teaching, whilst still feeling responsible for giving them the best education I can while doing the best I can.
I admit…I wish I wasn’t teaching, I still don’ feel cut out for it. However, God equips all of us. I undeniably care about these students and the struggle of their people…so I am going to stick it out a week at a time, frantically planning lessons, splitting my time between working behind the scenes in Davao and being hands on in Maco, caring about the present and futures of my students and feeling blessed to have an opportunity to learn and teach these children of God.
My previous post detailed my personal experience joining the Colonsabac, Matanao team of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM.) Yesterday I went to Ateneo de Davao University to attend the public presentation of overall findings of the NIHM to the four areas: Marawi City, President Roxas North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Matanao.
I wish to share some of the data.
The NIHM notes a total of 325,294 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao. For scale: that is a more of the entire population of NHL champion city Pittsburgh (pop 305,412 -2014 census) The steady increase of IDPs is a result of the drawn out Marawi siege, the AFP’s love affair with airstrikes that cause massive property destruction and friendly casualties, as well as other aerial bombardments in other parts of mindanao to suppress terrorism.
The NIHM was only able to provide for 1,222 families. The IDP situation is made complex by the number of unaccounted home based evacuees who remain un-or underserved.
NIHM medical found the top 10 diseases in the evacuation center served to be Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, Skin Diseases, Pulmonary Tuberculosis suspected (Class III) and active (Class V), Acute Gastroenteritis, Peptic Ulcer Disease/Dyspepsia, Muscoskeletal pain, Hypertension, Headache, Pneumonia, Gyne cases and Pregnancy. Pregnancy isn’t a disease but it does require attention and a more stable environment then say, an evacuation center. Health services are scarce in the centers and the ones that do exists are stretched thin and overloaded, thereby bringing the quality of healthcare down.
Aside from medical, mental health is a very real concern especially among children:
“as they witnessed heavily armed men, who they referred as ‘ISIS’, occupying their community and engaging in firefight with military elements. They express the same feeling and fear towards government soldiers. They witnessed helicopters hovering above Marawi City and dropping bombs on their communities. Their current temporary shelter in evacuation centers particularly those near Marawi City does not insulate them from the source of their fears as they continue to hear the sound of bombs especially at night time.”
In short, the NIHM finds that
Martial Law and the AFP’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment approach has spawned massive human rights violations
Martial Law’s adverse and grave impact on the human rights and welfare of civilians demonstrates its lack of effectivity and casts doubt on its appropriateness as a response to a small, armed, and foreign-affiliated terrorist group.
Intensified indiscriminate aerial bombardment is the primary character of Martial Law.
Martial Law demonstrates an anti-people and anti-insurgency motive, with the Moro and Lumad civilians and communities as its target.
Victims call to lift Martial Law, end aerial to aerial bombardment, and stop to militarization.
Alarming and condemnable criminal and terrorist acts of local terrorist groups which are reportedly funded, directed, and controlled by ISIS and foreign terrorist organizations
Glaring involvement and violation of Philippine sovereignty by US involvement and participation in the Marawi siege and possibly in other “counter-terror” campaigns in Mindanao
I’ve taken the liberty of uploading the original document. I hope you can find it useful. Special thanks to Kalinaw Mindanao for the report and organizing the NIHM, as well as all the volunteers, supporters and donors who made it happen.
That about sums up my travels to and from the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) to Matanao, Davao del Sur.
Matanao was the third site for the NIHM mission, with the first two serving internally displaced Moro people affected by the conflict in Marawi city in Iligan City and in Maguindanao.
They left at 4am on June 13. Our site was much closer so we didn’t leave until the following afternoon. About 8 people from Davao City joined the mission to Matanao, including journalists. The leader of our group coordinated with those already at the bus terminal to reserve spots for us, as we waited by the highway to climb aboard, all kitted out and ready for the mission.
It was about an hour bus trip from Davao City to Digos City, where we got off the bus and waited for our rides. After about 40 min of waiting, two big trucks pulled up to the station, an army surplus and an open flat bed “Saddam” truck.
The Lead Truck with our banner
Our Saddam truck
It was fun at first, but the road was quite bumpy
We piled on joining the 85 other folks from General Santos City and Sarangani province then continued on our way for about 1.5 hrs. It was a beautiful drive once we got out of the city. We drove until we arrived at Matanao proper where we stopped outside the Catholic church to greet the parish priest who would be our host for the next two days. I joined the greet team and listened to the curfew rules that were in effect due to martial law.
From there we piled back onto the trucks and continued to the actual parish where we would be spending the night. Along the way seeing a spectacular sunset reflecting off the rice fields. I tried to capture it one handed with my phone, as we were bouncing over some rather rough roads at speed and I did not wish to lose my grip on the safety bars of the saddam truck. Still, the view stood still long enough for me to enough photos that one of them turned out ok! 😉
After arriving at the church, we broke off into our various teams. I joined the relief distribution team. Some of the rice needed to be sorted into the 5kg family packs still. I joined the team outside, first preparing the bags, then I served as a mobile lamp post with my headlight providing decent light to allow the packers to see while they worked.
The next morning we got up very early, loading up the vehicles. It was a 35 min drive up into the mountains before we arrived at Colonsabac, Matanao, Davao del Sur, where we would be having the mission actual in the school gym. As we unloaded and set up banners, displaced persons started to arrive. There were representatives of all the 183 families to participate in the mission and receive relief goods.
Programmed activities began in earnest:
-First, the human rights violations documentation teams broke off with the different ‘puroks’ (think street neighborhoods – approximately 10-15 families)
-After that was concluded there was a time of sharing from the victims, as well as from representatives of the local clergy and national indigenous leaders from Manila.
-Lastly it was time for the relief to be handed out.
Just arrived at the school
Waiting for instructions at the gym
Putting up banners
HRV documentation in ‘puroks’
Sharing from HRV victims and national speakers
Organizing for relief distribution
Distributing family relief packs
Between the second and third activities a veritable thunderstorm barreled down on us and the hot sun turned to cool wind with rain hammering down on the covered gym. I, personally, love the rain and the cool wind it brings…I did not take into account climbing back up into the now slippery and muddy saddam truck, nor having nowhere to hold on to nor room to stand. This was due to the makeshift plastic tarpaulin that covered the bed. With nowhere to hold on, I steeled myself and sat on a banner, my poor back absorbing the shock of the bouncy road, feeling the water seep into my pants as we made our way back to the parish.
Still, this trip made an impression on me. Yes, due to the nature of my kidnap potential it was too dangerous for me to join the other relief mission locations, still, I was glad to be able to join the team to visit the Bl’aan displaced by war. Even though I was on the relief team, I spend most of my time on a new team called the social team, which consisted of me talking to children and their parents, as well as elders from the community to share a moment of solidarity and listen to them. It was a blessing to be part of the overall mission, joining grassroots leaders, students, farmers and other B’laan communities who had made the trip to be in solidarity with their brothers and sisters. For me, even though I ended the trip exhausted, wet, bruised and quite probably sick (so people say after seeing my face today) I am blessed to have been part of this experience.
National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission | June 13-16, 2017
Marawi City, Lanao del Sur| President Roxas, North Cotabato | Matan-ao, Davao del Sur
There are currently 235,000 internally displaced persons mostly in house-based settings and others scattered in at least 16 evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur (Bureau of Public Information-ARMM/June 4, 2017). An unaccounted number of people, mostly Maranaos, are feared stranded in conflict zones within the city.
On the other hand, the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao has unleashed military airstrikes in other parts of the island which has caused the displacement of 1,536 Maguindanaons in President Roxas town, North Cotabato and another 1,200 Blaans in Matan-ao, Davao del Sur. Aerial bombardments have also displaced an undetermined number of Moro civilians in Shariff Saydona, Mustapha, and Mamasapano towns in Maguindanao province.
There is an urgent need to step up our interfaith and humanitarian responses to the crisis in Marawi and the rest of Mindanao.
May we invite you therefore to the NATIONAL INTERFAITH HUMANITARIAN MISSION led by Kalinaw Mindanao on June 13-16, 2017.
The Mission aims to:
Serve at least 16,000 IDPs in Lanao del Sur and another 2,700 in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur;
Help empower and organize survivors and victims of internal displacements and all-out war;
Document and collate the human rights situation in Marawi and other parts of Mindanao to demand accountability and indemnification;
Express interfaith solidarity and unity with IDPs and other victims of human rights violations;
Call for the release of Fr. Chito Suganob and other civilian hostages in Marawi;
Formulate recommendations on how to address communities impacted by terrorism and Martial Law in Mindanao.
Kalinaw Mindanao has been carrying out interfaith responses to Mindanao crises, including massive displacements caused by the all-out war campaign of the Estrada administration in Central Mindanao in 2000, in Sulu and Basilan by the Arroyo government in 2005, and in Central Mindanao in 2008 following the rejection of the MOA-AD.
This invitation enjoins you to:
• Help generate/contribute relief support to the Mission areas
• Volunteer for psychosocial, medical, and relief services
• Enlist as human rights documentors
• Participate in Duyog Ramadan and interfaith activities
Please inquire or register on or before June 10, 2017. For confirmations and inquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call/fax +63 082 2994964. We look forward to your affirmative response to this invitation.
I don’t know what to write about anymore. First the devastating news about Marawi city, and now martial law declared…and worse it is welcomed by many people who should remember the lessons learned under President Dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
I have found myself explaining to Filipinos, people who I think would know better – that martial law is not a solution, and will not be any different under President Duterte than it was under Marcos, as the former said. In fact, Duterte has since said he thought Marcos’ martial law was great and plans his to be exactly the same and just as harsh.
At InPeace, we are used to observing suspicious vehicles watching our offices even before martial law, and we expect this to continue and become more brazen as martial law now legitimizes the surveillance we are under. As missionaries, myself and the Global Mission Fellows serving here, are to take extra precautions in being observers and strengthening our visible public ties to the Church – and always using a buddy system when going out. We also implemented our own curfew at the office, but we expect an official curfew to come in the following weeks. (This means also won’t be teaching as we are not supposed to travel)
Yet it is just as important for all of us to remain witness to what is happening in Mindanao. We cannot allow the civil sector to be quieted or silenced by martial law. We must bear witness to the increased extra judicial killings, the forced disappearances, the trumped up charges, the illegal detentions and the violation of human rights that will inevitably happen to our colleagues and to peace activists under marshal law. As long as we can bear witness without jeopardizing our physical safety, I believe it is our responsibility to do so. We cannot let our Filipinos sisters and brothers bear this alone, and we cannot let our voices and our witness be silent, we cannot be apathetic or rationalize martial law.
Please keep all of Mindanao in your prayers, especially the people of Marawi city who are still caught between the extremists fighters and government troops.