Hugging is a no-no practice in the Maranao culture [source: Guevarra, M. (2017, June 7). Marawi with a smile. Retrieved from www.manilabulletin.com]. But setting aside our tribes and provinces, we are all Filipinos and we have the same goal of living in peace and solidarity.
Sohaima Alonto, 22, is the eldest of 10 siblings. In Marawi City, their family has a stable poultry and linen cloth businesses to support their needs. Sohaima is an incoming third-year student in Mindanao State University this academic year.
Until before dawn of May 24, their peaceful life became a muddled one when the ISIS-inspired Maute group stayed in their backyard ransacking their poultry and all their other belongings. Even before the sun rises, they evacuated quickly to the town of Balo-i.
“As we were evacuating, I saw the Maute members laughing out loud at us. They did not harm us because they knew we are Moslems, but they did not also help us,” accounted Sohaima.
Sohaima and all of the 30 members of their family took refuge in the house of their relative in the town of Balo-i in Lanao Del Norte.
Because of great fear, they were not able to bring anything with them, not even money. Being home-based evacuees, they are now depending on relief goods given by different humanitarian groups who personally come to their place. Relief aids from the government do not reach them as they were focused on those staying in evacuation centers.
For five days, Sohaima’s family was one of the 100 families who received food packs from Operation Blessing’s disaster response effort in Maria Cristina, Balo-i. They also received hygiene kits and some relief goods.
Although very thankful for the aid they were receiving, Sohaima also burst into tears when she talked about her siblings, “All I am thinking now is the condition of my younger siblings.” Sohaima’s two younger siblings and their father were recently confined in the nearest hospital because of diarrhea.
She was also able to receive medical treatments for her siblings from Operation Blessing.
“Can I give you a hug?” Sohaima asked an Operation Blessing volunteer. “Despite our differences, you helped us. Thank you very much, Operation Blessing Philippines,” a teary-eyed Sohaima said during the Listening Ministry conducted at Maria Cristina Gym, Balo-i.
Another 100 families from Balo-i are now undergoing Listening Ministry and will be given food for five days also. Meanwhile in the town of Pantar, 526 individuals received 3 kilos of rice each. Also in Brgy. Ditucalan, Iligan City, 218 individuals received hygiene kits (1 toothbrush, half dozen toothpaste in sachet, 1 bottle alcohol, 2 bath soaps, 1 face towel, half dozen shampoo in sachet).