Marawi residents celebrate yet another Eid away from home

People from war-torn city tire of makeshift existence and yearn to return home
Marawi residents celebrate yet another Eid away from home

Residents in a temporary relocation site in the village of Sagonsongan in Marawi celebrate the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan on June 15. (Photo by Divina Suson)

Another Eid al-Fitr has passed during which the people of Marawi in the southern Philippines have had to celebrate away from their homes and communities.

In the village of Sagonsongan on the outskirts of the city, about 400 families marked the Islamic "Feast of Breaking the Fast" in a masjid inside a temporary relocation site.

The place, called Gift of Change, hosted residents from the main battle area during the five-month conflict between government troops and terrorist gunmen last year.

Other displaced families from the city also had to attend Eid prayers and celebrations in masjids or mosques in various temporary relocation sites.

Hadji Abdullah Mohaimen, who lives with his family in the Sagonsongan camp, takes care of the masjid there. 

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He said the structure is not yet finished because construction only began at the start of Ramadan.

"But we have to use it even if it is still being constructed because we have nowhere else to pray but a platform outside."

The "platform" Mohaimen was referring to is a wooden structure outside the masjid where the distribution of relief goods is held when government officials come to visit.

"We are thankful that we already have this [masjid] so that people will not have a difficult time looking for a place to pray," he said.

The 48-year-old father of four became emotional while narrating his story. "If only every month was Ramadan so that people will give us something. There is an abundance of food and we are happy, and we can forget about the tragedy," he said.

Marawi's occupation by Islamic State-inspired gunmen last year resulted in fighting that leveled the city and displaced an estimated 400,000 people.

Most of these people have yet to get back to the city pending its reconstruction and rehabilitation by the government.

"We are like wet chicks that are scattered everywhere with nowhere safe to take shelter," Mohaimen told ucanews.com.

The former migrant who worked in Saudi Arabia, however, said he is optimistic that Marawi's people will be able to get back on their feet. "We only need the help of the government," he said.

Mohaimen worked in the Middle East for 16 years as an electrician before returning home in 2008 to run a grocery store in Marawi.

"I built a house because I said I would not leave my family behind again and we would always be together," he said.

But everything was lost in an instant during the war last year.

"If I was not a practicing Muslim, I don't know what would I have done because of the pain I felt," he said with tears in his eyes.

Like Mohaimen, Junader Radia said he feels assured that outsiders have expressed their concern for those affected by the conflict. "I hope we will all be united now," he said.

For Juhary Pacasum, Radia's neighbor, the pain is still there, "but what can I do?, he says"

"We were happy then, we are happy now, but we cannot forget what happened."

Mohaimen, Radia and Pacasum are among the thousands of Marawi residents not allowed back to the city because their communities were totally devastated by the fighting.

They said that during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims spend time praying and fasting, their only prayer was for God to give them strength to continue living for their family.

As a caretaker of the masjid, the former electrician receives about US$56 a month.

During Eid, the government gave each family in the temporary shelters US$5 to buy and cook food for the breaking of the fast.

The residents brought the food inside a tent set up outside the masjid for the celebration.

The full implementation of the rehabilitation program is yet to start but the government is already planning to spend less for the city.

The government announced last week that the rehabilitation of Marawi would now cost 62.26 billion pesos (US$1.1 billion), lower than the initial estimate of around 70.42 billion to 73.42 billion pesos.

The government earlier pledged to roll out a total of 892 programs, activities and projects for Marawi under an ambitious master plan.

But critics said the master plan has not been finalized and remains framed in loose procurement rules and legal shortcuts.

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