When classes reopened in Marawi
this week, more than a year after terrorist gunmen attacked the southern Philippine city, youngsters Najib Sarip and Yasser Marohom sat together in a classroom they last occupied two years ago when they were in the fifth grade. The two boys were supposed to start as sixth graders this year but the war changed the course of their lives. Najib, 16, worked as a day laborer in a nearby town where his family had fled to because of the fighting that went on for five months last year. After the military allowed some residents to return home
after several suburbs were cleared of unexploded bombs and ammunition, Najib went with his grandparents to their house not far from what was the main battle area. When the school nearest the grandparents' home reopened, Najib joined his best friend Yasser, 14, in going to school. Wearing only old shirts, short pants and dirty slippers, the boys went to school without a piece of paper or pencil between them.
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Najib said he wanted to finish his studies and become a soldier "to fight [Islamic State gunmen]" whom he said brought war to Marawi. The young boy said that after the conflict many of his friends wanted to become soldiers. Teachers told Najib to join the grade 6 pupils, but he declined. "I am ashamed of myself," he said as he tried to grab Yasser to accompany him inside the grade 5 room. The younger boy, however, had to go back to grade 5 because he was unable to complete his studies last year because of the fighting. Salima Tampi, the grade 5 teacher, said Najib had already progressed to grade 6. "I took him to his classroom but he came back here," said the teacher. "He said there were many new students there." Teachers interview students during the first day of classes in war-torn Marawi city in the southern Philippines on June 4. (Photo by Divina Suson)
Assistant school principal, Sainollah Baute Salem, said the school is trying to cope with a high number of pupils returning to the school. "We are expecting more children in the coming days, especially when residents of at least three other villages return to Marawi," said Salem. The elementary school in the village of Saduc stands on the boundaries of three villages — Saduc Proper, Panggao Saduc, and Raya Saduc — and is the nearest school to last year's main battleground. Schools in other cleared areas of Marawi that opened this week have also noted an increase in the number of children enrolling. At Amai Pakpak Central Elementary School, grade 1 teacher Amerah Salic-Daluma said she had 45 enrollees on the first day of classes. She is expecting more when the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends later in June. The teacher said thousands of children who continue to live in temporary shelters have enrolled in nearby schools, causing a rise in the number of pupils in public institutions around the city. Education Secretary Leonor Briones
said that despite the ongoing city rehabilitation not all schools in Marawi could be opened this year. She said that of the 69 schools in the city, more than 20 would not be able to accommodate students because of their poor state and unsafe conditions. More than 40 schools would need to undergo repairs. Anna Zenaida Unte, assistant superintendent of schools in Marawi, said that while waiting for more schools to open, Marawi students from affected areas will be enrolled in places where they seek refuge. "Those who are in cleared areas will enroll in schools nearest them," she added. About 31,000 elementary and high school students around war-torn Marawi were displaced by last year's conflict, which affected about 400,000 people. "We are doing all we can to speed up the construction and repair of school buildings in Marawi," said Briones in a media briefing in Manila. Classes in the city opened on June 4 when public primary and secondary schools opened around the country.