On the fringes of the desolate and infamous Ground Zero of Marawi, sits Sarimanok Tent City; one of three remaining evacuation centers that house IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) from the Siege of Marawi, 2 years ago. This is their situation right now.
At the border of Marawi, just a little higher up from the actual border marker, dozens of tents line both sides of the road. The opening is inconspicuous but under the sign a little further in welcomes you to Sarimanok Tent City of Marawi. Here, hundreds of IDPs or Internally Displaced People live to this day, two years after the Siege of Marawi.
A woman rushes to meet the Tzu Chi Staff and entourage and relaxes when she realizes who they are. She introduces herself as Jaslia P. Abbas, the Camp Manager for Sarimanok Tent City, Site 2. There is an overjoyed shout as one of Tzu Chi’s guides in Marawi and one of two coordinators for the Marawi Housing Project of Tzu Chi, Faridah Adilao is reunited with her family member after two years following the siege.
Curious residents come in ones or pairs as some of the braver residents strike conversation with Tzu Chi Staff. Children run between the canvas tents sorely in need of repairs to greet the visitors. In an open field, a volleyball game is played. Some of the tents are supported by bamboo fences, some others have plants growing in handmade plastic bottles as a makeshift garden. The residents even have livestock running after the staff; long legged and very tall chickens, young and small ducks and goats.
Jaslia tells us in a hushed tone, “We’ve been here for more than 15 months. We were in the fisheries before, ten months over there and fifteen months here so it’s been more than two years we’ve been in evacuation centres. We’ve been told it will only take three to six months here. What happened was that there was already a more stable place done and we were slated to be transferred there but that didn’t happen. A lot of trespassers settled there so we were then told to wait. The NHA announced that on the last week of August, we can finally move but it’s about to be September already. Then they said again September but they aren’t sure about that”.
When asked about their condition now, “We are not okay, the only comfort we have is that we’re back in Marawi, the place where we were born. Even though our tents are hot, we endure the heat. We become patient when we take comfort with the thought that we’re back in Marawi. We have no problem with electricity, although there are power interruptions from time to time. Water is given on alternate days. Our biggest problem is the lack of relief goods. It has been awhile since we’ve them. We were given last year around December, and then February and then nothing. So now, the people have to endure and wait for the government to fulfil their promises. A few of us were given Sari-Sari stores as our livelihood but it is not sustainable. Some take odd jobs and share what they earned outside, because not everyone can work outside, especially those with children. Food is hard to come by now, there is a surplus of tricycles given to the community that diminish the chance of earning a living for the owners. So now we just endure because we don’t have a sustainable income”.
She introduce the staff members to her tent that is barely upright with a small opening that serves a storefront and the space where she and six children sleeps with whatever appliances and clothes they salvaged from the war with them.
She continues, “Sometimes, when it rains, the tents are not stable. The wind is strong during the rainy season, we cannot sleep because we have to be vigilant as the tent might be blown away if it isn’t secured”.
When asked about medicine, she replies “Thankfully we don’t have many sick people, we can go to different centres for medicine”.
Despite the threadbare conditions of the tents and the place, it is teeming with life and interesting people with beautiful smiles. Despite everything that has happened two years ago, there is still hope in such an unlikely place.