A representative of a Muslim NGO arrived at Jing Si (Still Thoughts) Hall on August 26 to thank Tzu Chi Foundation for its support to families displaced by the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
Sittie Jehanne Mutin, head of the Mindanao Alliance for Reform and Empowerment, extended Marawi’s gratitude to Tzu Chi Philippines CEO Henry Yunez and volunteer Judy Lao. Since June, the Buddhist organization has been sending relief to thousands of families in evacuation centers in Iligan City, 40 km. north of Marawi. The first shipment of relief on June 13 involves 1,000 pieces of eco-friendly blankets fresh from Taiwan. The second shipment on August 3 is a container van filled with 49,800 pieces of clothing and undergarments. Local NGOs in the area help with the distribution.
Mutin reports that a third shipment from Tzu Chi, mostly undergarments, has arrived at Iligan City. As bizarre as it sounds, she says, most of the evacuees are in dire need of clean clothing.
“Sometimes, you can’t help but snicker about giving underwear. But in war, you realize that these are important things you often forget to bring,” Mutin shares.
The bloody skirmish between government forces and terrorists enters its third month, both sides and civilians suffering casualties. Almost 600 terrorists have been killed in urban warfare, while security forces suffer over 100 dead. An additional 45 civilians have also been killed in the crossfire. Despite much of the city liberated, the battle grows fiercer as the conflict area shrinks.
Because of the fluid situation, Tzu Chi volunteers have been unable to go to the area. Not one to miss on helping the needy, however, they coordinate with NGOs already operating in the area as to the needs of the displaced families. Mutin is among their eyes and ears regarding the situation of the evacuees.
“We were not able to go to Marawi, although we knew that there are many victims at this time because of this conflict. It’s a good thing that they have a representative that comes over here and gives us a better picture of what’s going on. So Tzu Chi Foundation knows what it can do and how it can help,” says Lao.
Regardless, the Buddhist organization is in the process of making plans for long-term relief as soon as the conflict ends. During the meeting, Yunez shows Mutin the organization’s housing project in Leyte for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors.
Mutin thanks Tzu Chi for giving the displaced people more than just material relief.
“As recognized by our partners, Tzu Chi gave hope as a volunteer organization. It shows that you don’t need money to help. It’s not so much the goods as the hope they brought in,” she remarks.
It’s puzzling as to why a group of people would wage war in a city not only home to Muslims but also people of different faiths. While Marawi City is predominantly Muslim and managed under sharia law, a small population of Christians has enjoyed coexisting with their Muslim brothers and sisters. Even during the tumultuous chapters of the country’s history, not once has Marawi experienced turmoil of such a magnitude as the ongoing crisis.
In the end, Mutin believes that humanity is all that matters.
“Humanity is important. Humanity really exists. Religion or social status isn’t as important as your humanity. All of us are humans, all of us need help, and all of us are ready to help when necessary,” she says.
While Dharma Master Cheng Yen realizes the importance of religion, she stresses that it’s more important to do good deeds to others regardless. In the eyes of a person of virtue, there is little difference between a Muslim and Christian displaced by conflict. Both are living beings in need of aid, which Master Cheng Yen works hard for.
Tzu Chi volunteer Judy Lao (left) welcomes Sittie Jehanne Mutin upon arriving at Jing Si (Still Thoughts) Hall. Mutin heads one of several Muslim non-government organizations actively helping the displaced families and organizing relief efforts.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
As the situation in the conflict zone remains fluid, Tzu Chi relies on accounts from those near the area to give a status report. As of this writing, fierce fighting still rages within Marawi City.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A sample unit of the prefabricated homes for disaster victims stands outside Jing Si Hall for Mutin to inspect. The unit on display is the larger 27-square-meter variant for families of five or more.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Lao shows a spread of Jing Si products for sale, made by the monks of the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Mutin receives a copy of Lao’s vegetarian cookbook, which the former considers trying once the conflict in Marawi City dies down.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Mutin also receives two bags of Jing Si instant rice, designed to be cooked with minimal effort in times of disasters. As Muslims see pork as taboo, the meatless meals the rice provides will work to the refugees’ benefit.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The three-hour meeting concludes with a picture of Mutin with Tzu Chi volunteers. Tzu Chi hopes to provide further aid to the displaced families, even if the volunteers can’t come personally.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】