New school brings light to students in Lanao del Sur
Protracted conflicts and constant displacement have disrupted young people's access to education in Mindanao, southern Philippines. The long-term repercussions of this for children and the community at large are barely reported.
Ragayan Elementary School in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province, was severely damaged in a conflict between government security forces and a non-state armed group in 2016. The school was destroyed, along with houses and farms in the two most severely affected villages (barangays) of Ragayan and Poctan.
Some 390 families (approximately 1,950 people) fled to Marawi City, but they were displaced again after a larger armed conflict devastated it in 2017. The conflict's impact on the remote municipality was somehow forgotten after the hostilities shifted to Marawi.
Since 2017, over 250 pupils and their teachers endured an unsafe space in Ragayan.
"It pained me because we get rained on while having classes," said Nor-jannah Nabil, a Grade 6 student.
"Whenever our teacher wrote on the blackboard, the raindrops would just erase her writings."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has access to this town through the humanitarian aid it provided during the 2016 hostilities, sought in 2019 the support of the community and the ministry of education of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the pupils of Ragayan to have a conducive space to study.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays. After the easing of some restrictions, 90 members of the community finally managed to work together to build and complete the wooden temporary learning space by the end of September through ICRC's cash-for-work project.
Today, due to restrictions for face-to-face learning, Ragayan's pupils are unable to use the new space and are staying home to study through modules and two-way radio, with the support of their dedicated teachers and parents.
But they now have something to look forward to as the ICRC plans to build the new, more permanent structure next year.