‘Lumad’ folk cope with health woes in ‘tent city’
TANDAG CITY—Sherly Pagalan gave birth to a boy about 20 days into her stay at the evacuation camp in Tandag City. “We’ve been here for over a month now. It is difficult, especially in my condition. I couldn’t rest well as we sleep only on this hard (wooden bleachers),” she said.
Barely out of her teens, Pagalan and her 20-year old partner, Diego, joined Manobo relatives and neighbors in fleeing San Agustin municipality following the Sept. 1 killings in nearby Lianga town. Fear toward the armed militias whom they call bandidos (bandits) kept the couple and the rest of the “lumad” (indigenous) evacuees from going back to their community.
Pagalan’s life back home was more comfortable, she told the Inquirer. “I have enough food. Here, you had to contend with rations. Sometimes, there’s no viand,” the Manobo woman said in Cebuano.
Sectoral groups, including the Church and nongovernment organizations, have renewed calls for help for the evacuees from five municipalities in Surigao del Sur province, who have taken shelter in tents and other makeshift dwellings at the provincial sports complex amid poor living conditions.
19 births so far
At least 19 women have given birth since Sept. 1 when the exodus of Manobo villagers from 27 communities began after the killing of an educator and two tribal leaders in Sitio Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, said Hazel Azero, coordinator of the Community-based Health Program.
At least 530 families or close to 3,000 individuals are staying in the virtual “tent city” as of Oct. 6. Sixty percent of them are children, said May Navidad Salinas, provincial social welfare officer.
“Conditions were dire at first, particularly to the first batch of mothers who gave birth as there was no temporary shelter for them yet,” Azero told the Inquirer.
Their plight gradually improved as evacuees themselves set up a system to take care of expectant mothers, and the provincial health office provided a room for the women, she said.
But the pressing concern was the health of the evacuees and public sanitation. “People live in tents under sweltering heat during the day and freezing cold during the night,” Azero said.
Many evacuees, especially children, were suffering from gastrointestinal problems and respiratory diseases. Dozens have been brought to the provincial hospital due to illnesses.
Dearth of diapers
Compounding the problem for the mothers was the dearth of diapers and baby cloth (lampin) for the newborn as most of the women had fled hastily, leaving behind most of their belongings back in their shuttered homes.
Frequent downpours also flood many tents at the complex, said Aileen Marson, a 26-year-old mother of four.
Her 3-year-old son Jo-ay has been coughing, and her 7-month-old infant suffered from a cold days after arriving from Bolhoon, San Miguel municipality. Her two children were left under the care of her parents-in-law in another municipality.
The provincial social welfare office said “interventions” by the national and provincial governments were continuing. Relief items were being distributed, and psychosocial activities for children were being conducted.
“The province really wanted the evacuees to return to their communities the soonest, but of course, it has to take into consideration their decision,” Salinas said. “Many have fallen ill. The living condition there is dismal.”
Call for help
Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc. (BMFI), a peace-building group based in Cagayan de Oro City, has joined the growing number of organizations calling for help to the lumad communities displaced by the recent crisis in Surigao del Sur.
It said many organizations, including the provincial and local governments, had already exerted efforts for the resolution of the crisis, but local officials “see insufficiency of help in the coming weeks due to an increasing number of children getting sick.”
“We are thus appealing to all kindhearted individuals and groups who are willing to share and spare some of their resources for the immediate needs of these refugees who may not be celebrating the Christmas season this year,” BMFI said in a statement.
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