Hidaya was 16 when the Marawi crisis in May 2017 happened. She was in fourth-year high school and lived like the usual teenager: carefree but grounded, while aspiring to attain her dreams. But the five-month armed clashes robbed her of that normalcy. She was displaced while her parents were trapped in the fighting—never to be heard from again.
"The worst thing about losing your parents to ambiguity is not having closure. Just when you think you've fully recovered, the thought that they may still return comes to you at any moment, and you feel the emotion of losing them all over again," she said.
The emotional distress she endured at such a young age was made worse by the financial difficulties following her parents' disappearance. She became dependent on her older siblings who she understands have their own families to feed. "I worked as a cashier at my aunt's store to somehow contribute. It was completely different when my omie (mother) and abie (father) were around."
Hidaya's experience represents the reality of dozens more families who lost a loved one to the crisis. In several cases, it was the breadwinner who went missing, resulting in the role being assumed by relatives. Due to the financial burden, education becomes less prioritized and is often compromised.
The ICRC has been supporting families of missing persons (FoMs) in their various struggles since the aftermath of the crisis. The organization has implemented various programs to help these families economically and psychologically.
Recently, after assessing the added burden COVID-19 had on the education of families of missing persons like Hidaya, the ICRC saw the need to provide conditional cash grants and gadgets for their blended learning. Fifty FoMs received cash, tablet devicesand electronic load, between September and November. The project is aimed at supporting FoMs in their education, with the more vulnerable families–mostly those who lost their breadwinner to the conflict—being prioritized.
"Education is a humanitarian issue because it enables people to rebuild their lives with dignity. Humanitarian action helps people not only to survive but also to rebuild and improve their lives," said said Omar Hadjisocor, field officer of the ICRC's missing persons file.
"More importantly, access to education is a humanitarian issue because schools are important epicenters of community life and of humanitarian activity. Children have the opportunity to learn how to contribute to the protection and well-being of their own communities, especially in the face of conflict, violence and displacement," he said.
Hidaya and others shared how the cash grants and tablet devices have helped ease the burden and allow them to continue with their studies.
*All names were changed
If you wish to seek the ICRC's support in the search for your family members who went missing in the Marawi crisis,
you may text or call our hotline numbers:
Iligan-based: 0998-5798135 (Smart) and 0917-8645818 (Globe)
(Languages: Tagalog, Meranao and Bisaya)
Zamboanga-based: 0947-9703578 (Smart) and 0956-6923181 (Globe)
(Languages: Tagalog and Tausug)