Child evacuees mimic fighting in Marawi
ILIGAN CITY — Seven-year-old Laiza and her friend Rohaina argued about the war inside a shelter here for residents who fled the fighting in Marawi City.
“The ones who burned our house were the bad guys,” Laiza said, referring to gunmen from the Maute terror group who seized Marawi on May 23.
“No, you got it wrong,” 8-year-old Rohaina shot back. “The bad guys hid in your house so the soldiers burned it down.”
A few meters away, 10-year-old Orak and 9-year-old Saipoding were “fighting.”
“I am a Maute because I’m good at shooting,” Orak said, waving a plastic toy gun.
“OK, I am the soldier then. I will hunt you down because you are bad,” Saipoding said, laughing.
“Just don’t use bombs,” 12-year-old Monawara butted in. “It will destroy everything.”
Many other children in other evacuation centers around Marawi play soldiers and terrorists, acting out the fierce clashes that have displaced most of the city’s more than 200,000 residents.
“We have been to one evacuation center where I saw children playing. They appear normal but when you talk to them, you can see their trauma,” said Davao del Sur provincial board member Nonito Llanos III.
Llanos, who came to deliver aid from the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines (PBMLP), said the children needed more psychosocial intervention.
“The food is abundant so that is not our main worry,” Llanos said after seeing the evacuation center in Buru-un village here.
“But you can see in [the children’s] eyes that something is really amiss. They might play and laugh all day like normal children but you can see their fear if you look closer,” said Llanos, PBMLP vice president for Mindanao.
Joshia Anticamara, a nurse at Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi, helps conduct psychosocial therapy sessions under the supervision of the Department of Health.
He agrees that the child evacuees appear normal because they just play or talk with friends all the time.
“But [if] you let them draw, you will see that they’re lonely,” he said. “They draw things that they miss.”
According to Anticamara, he once asked children to draw their favorite animals but “one child drew a house instead.”
When asked, the child said he “missed their house in Marawi,” he said.
They want to return home
The children at the evacuation centers, he said, long for their home environment.
“They really want to return home,” he said.
In another session with the children, Anticamara said the playfulness of one child caught his attention.
“When we asked him and the other children to write what they felt on that particular day, he said he was lonely. I asked him for details but he wouldn’t talk anymore,” Anticamara said.
Most of the time, he said, children cannot express what’s on their mind but they can readily express their feelings in drawing and similar activities.
“The psychosocial sessions really help them unload. They can express their thoughts through drawings and other activities. Most of them have fears and worries,” he said.