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Franciscans struggle to aid forgotten Marawi refugees

More than 6,000 families families suffering from lack of jobs, access to education and lack of govt help

Franciscans struggle to aid forgotten Marawi refugees

A child evacuee stands at the entrance of a home-based evacuation center in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte on Aug 27. (Bong S. Sarmiento)

Bong S. Sarmiento, Iligan City
Philippines

August 30, 2017

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Families displaced by three months of fighting on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao are grappling with unemployment and a sudden spike in school dropout rates, Franciscan missionaries warned.

More than 6,000 families who chose to flee and live with relatives in towns around the main war zones of Marawi City also face hunger as donation drives wane, said Brother Elton Viagedor, coordinator of the "Franciscans One With Marawi" project.

The base of the Franciscan relief operations is in Balo-i, a town 18 kilometers from Marawi, and which is a poor, agricultural community that has struggled with the arrival of more than 4,000 families.

"Life is very difficult. We have been here for over three months, said Rama Madaya, a tricycle driver from Marawi whose family is living with relatives in Balo-i.

"I have no work to support my family. I pray for the conflict to end," Madaya said.

In more far-flung areas, "evacuees are starving due to lack of relief assistance," Brother Viagedor told ucanews.com.

The missionaries have spent the last two months braving dangerous rural roads and hours of travel to take aid to scattered communities of the displaced in Saguiaran and Pantao Ragat towns, in Lanao del Norte, which face threats as rebels retreat from the main war zone of Marawi.

"Some people advised us not to go to remote communities which are poorly served by the government and aid agencies because of the security risk," said Father Daniel Borromeo, administrator of the San Vicente Ferrer quasi-parish in Balo-i.

"We just pray to God to keep us safe because the war victims there badly need help," he said.

The Franciscans deliver weekly packs of rice, noodles, dried fish, milk, coffee, toiletries and sweet potatoes. They have also brought teams of doctors and social workers to assist displaced families.

In one evacuation center, visited by ucanews.com, parents said scores of children have been forced to drop out of school.

The Philippine government offers free primary and secondary education. But government food programs for students in larger towns have not reached displaced children in Balo-i and parents have no money for uniforms and other school needs.

More than half of 60,000 Marawi child evacuees did not return to school in June, the start of the school term in the Philippines, according to international aid group Save The Children. The war has displaced close to half a million people, including transient business people who stay in Marawi during weekdays.

Bereft of livelihood and still waiting for the government's food-for-work program, the displaced depend on the Franciscans for food and other essentials.

The Franciscans source donations from Philippine parishes and institutions and from communities in Japan, Korea and Malta, said Father Daniel Borromeo, administrator of the San Vicente Ferrer quasi-parish in Balo-i town. Second collections during Masses have also raised funds for the aid mission.

Brother Viagedor appealed for more donations, saying the displaced are months away from returning home.

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