Flee or fight. Those are the only options for many children living in the conflict zones in Mindanao, Philippines.
“I was trained to always be ready. I slept in my shoes. My bags packed, always within reach,” recalls Joy (name changed to protect her identity), local Project Coordinator in the Philippines. She credits her early childhood experiences, running for her life, for birthing in her a burden to help the children still at-risk in her home community.
Joy is the eldest of three children. She has lived most of her life surrounded by multi-ethnic groups in a region plagued by armed conflict. When she was very young, her family built secret passages throughout their home so they could escape when conflict erupted. Joy’s parents taught her and her siblings to crawl, on their own, towards their hideout when they saw signs of danger.
But not all children in Joy’s community were taught to flee—some were forced to fight. Many families from the neighboring villages, victims of historical and social injustice, ended up in the militant groups. Years later, the same is true for Ali and Dallah (names changed to protect their identities).
Ali is the son of a battalion commander. He grew up immersed in armed conflict and his only education was learning weaponry. By the time he was twelve, Ali was a highly trained marksman but had yet to learn to read and write. Dallah is the daughter of one of the toughest militant leaders in the region. By ten-years-old, she had survived many battles. She, too, has mastered the art of advanced weaponry.
Like Joy, Ali and Dallah did not have a normal, peaceful childhood. Basic necessities were scarce. They ate only what they could forage— mostly corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts or other root crops — as long as the rats and monkeys didn’t get them first. But unlike Joy, they went to sleep prepared to fight at the first sign of attack. No one in their village imagined that this would be their reality, but they soon learned it was the only way to survive. They say it’s a result of endless fighting throughout their region. It's the aftermath from decades of tension and armed conflict, handed down from one generation to the next.
Just like most children, both Ali and Dallah want to go to school. They want to learn, to read and write, and to live normal lives.
During a recent visit to their village, Joy announced they would be the first scholar recipients of our special Educational Assistance Program in their region. Ali and Dallah beamed!
Our team is overwhelmed with joy. This opportunity will alter the course of Ali and Dallah's lives and pave the way to rescue more child soldiers.
Imagine if every child in the surrounding villages were sent to school and given the gift of a peaceful childhood. Will we not see a whole generation transformed? Will we not see an entire region revolutionize from conflict to peace? This is our dream.
Will you be one with us and help fulfill this call?