Hope and Passion: Humanitarian Work in the Most Unfavourable SituationsPublished: Aug 18, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has a storied history of violence. This history originates from struggles against colonial rule and extends to the present day due to the presence of extremist groups. These groups are influenced by various factors pushing them toward violent extremism—however, these factors are often linked to neglect and poverty.
At People in Need (PIN) Philippines, we have recently launched initiatives in the BARMM region: Leveraging and Expanding Agri-Aqua Production in Bangsamoro (LEAP) and Strengthening Capacities of Civil Society Organizations in Caraga and BARMM for Good Governance. These endeavours have partnered with esteemed local non-governmental organisations like Maranao People Development Cooperative Association Inc. (MARADECA) and United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), ensuring contextual relevance and effective implementation.
Faridah Salic, a Maranao residing in the City of Marawi, has been associated with MARADECA for over a decade. She is the Program Manager for LEAP, explicitly focusing on coffee production in the Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi islands. Faridah finds her assignment in the BaSulTa islands challenging and exhilarating despite being in the same region.
"PIN's areas represent a brave endeavour, considering that one of these islands is the birthplace of the extremist groups that ignited the Civil War in Marawi. I experienced violence firsthand during that time, but as a humanitarian worker, my heart is not clouded by bias; I am committed to helping others irrespective of their identities or origins," Faridah noted.
The Marawi siege of 23 May, 2017, resulted in 1,200 fatalities and displaced 400,000 individuals, including Faridah. Despite being personally affected, Faridah exhibited remarkable courage and was among the first to offer aid from MARADECA to Muslim and non-Muslim residents. "If you genuinely wish to help, you should not discriminate when and whom to help. That's the essence of humanitarian work," Faridah emphasised.
In 2017, we sent a humanitarian team to help the affected residents, with support from our People In Need Club of Friends and local nonprofit organisations. Our team aided the group most impacted by the conflict – the youth. This vital group made up almost half of Marawi City's population. MARADECA, one of our partner local NGOs, supported the PIN team.
Meanwhile, MARADECA played a pivotal role in aiding families impacted by the Marawi siege. They provided livelihood opportunities and facilitated the return of affected children to school. In so doing, they helped them overcome challenges related to missing personal identification documents that hindered access to government aid.
For Faridah, humanitarian work entails a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground and fulfilling essential needs. This approach resonates with her appreciation of their partnership with PIN's previous and current projects.
Another vital colleague is Neil B. Antoque, a two-decade veteran in the humanitarian sector. Neil serves as the Program Manager for UnYPhil-Women on the LEAP project, concentrating on the seaweed aspect in the islands. Neil's passion for humanitarian work fuels his commitment to assisting communities, and he cannot envision himself in any other field. He might have contemplated volunteering in a different country if not for the LEAP project.
"I have a profound passion for humanitarian work. I've volunteered not only in the Philippines but also abroad. I often say that when my time comes, I'll be content to have left behind something good," Neil shared.
Neil is no stranger to serving the BARMM region, having previously overseen a camp transformation project in Maguindanao del Sur. This initiative aimed to shift the perspective of Mujahideen and ex-combatant groups towards development. Despite the challenges of being a Christian operating in a predominantly Muslim area, Neil courageously encouraged Mujahideen to focus on social and economic aspects. "The most significant impact is their life transformation, and on a personal level, my life underwent a transformation as well," Neil tearfully recounted.
Neil firmly believes that well-executed projects, particularly in BARMM, coupled with a deep understanding of realities, can enhance lives, contribute to peace and security, and eradicate violence within communities.
The zeal, dedication, and unwavering commitment of humanitarian workers, especially those who closely engage with local communities, form the foundation of Faridah and Neil's mission. Despite the risks they face, their love for their communities and the fulfilment derived from witnessing individuals overcome their circumstances constitute the most rewarding aspects of their roles as humanitarian workers. For them, this mission transcends personal gratification.