Fatima is one of many Filipino children forced from their homes by the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, in the Philippines. The clash broke out between government forces and the local armed group in May.
Now, more than 389,000 people have been forced to flee.
There were multiple gunshots nearby.
Fatima*, who’s only 11 years old, quickly left her house – together with her siblings, other young relatives, and one adult.
“Our parents told us to get on the jeepney to join other children, so we can get out of Marawi. All of us were crying, we were afraid that the armed men might find us and kill us,” she remembers.
Fatima’s parents told her to seek safety in a relative’s farm just outside the city. They promised they would follow soon.
For two agonizing days, however, Fatima didn’t see her parents.
The thought of her parents being harmed or captured was all she and her brothers and sisters could think of as they wept and waited for them.
“We thought we’d never see our parents again”
After two days seeking a refuge, Fatima was finally reunited with their parents in an evacuation area just beyond the border of Marawi.
“We hugged our parents when we saw them. We cried,” Fatima tells me.
“Our parents were worried because the farm where we stayed was very far from town,” she continued. “And we did not have anything to eat.”
“We thought we would never see our parents again because we heard how violent the armed group is.”
Fatima’s family currently lives with relatives in the neighbouring municipality of Saguiaran.
Back to school
Now, Fatima is enrolled at a host school, together with her 10-year-old cousins, Abdul* and Sathia*.
All three children fled Marawi together, taking only a few clothes with them.
They’re excited to return to class. But most schools still lack basic supplies, such as paper and pencils.
Life before the conflict
Before the clashes began, life for children like Fatima was happy back in Marawi. On weekends, they were free to play.
They also helped their parents with household chores and looking after younger siblings.
Her cousin Sathia chimes in, “I was happy back home because we had food there. I often ate my favorite meal, chicken adobo. Now, my mother claims our food [at the evacuation center] but it’s not enough for us because there’s just too many of us here.”
Host towns accommodating displaced families have set up evacuation sites. Due to a surge in the number of evacuees, some schools are now used as evacuation centers. Additional classrooms are needed for evacuated children.
Fatima and her cousins are being forced to learn in a community hall. The space that used to be a community stage and a covered basketball court is now filled with school desks and roughly-built blackboards.
Despite the difficult conditions, Fatima and her cousins remain undeterred. They tell me they’re still very eager to learn.
What we’re doing
In the weeks since the clashes began, we’ve set up 20 temporary learning spaces – large tents which can be used as additional classrooms. We’re also distributing vital back-to-school kits.
When a disaster strikes, we have to act fast to save children’s lives and ensure they still have the futures they deserve. Our Emergency Fund allows us to do this.
It means we could launch this response to conflict in the Philippines. And in the toughest circumstances and in forgotten corners of the world, this special reserve of money has saved thousands of lives.