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.
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.
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.