Months of airstrikes may have reduced Marawi’s schools to rubble but it did not erode the children’s hunger for knowledge. While the conflict had been so traumatic to many, if not to all, the students’ determination to learn and finish school motivated them to continue their studies amid their dire situation.
After the siege, temporary learning spaces (TLSs) were put up. These tent classrooms were very helpful but learning conditions were far from ideal. Still, it did not hinder both teachers and students to finish the school year.
A TEACHER’S COMMITMENT
Teacher Tanjirea Mascara could still remember how the frequent airstrikes disrupted her class at the TLS in Saguiaran Central Elementary School.
Their tent classroom is only a few kilometers away from the main battle area, that was why the atmosphere would turn tense every time the city was being bombed. Most of her pupils have homes there and every explosion could mean houses destroyed: reminders of better days gone forever.
“Whenever we would hear the military planes passing over us, we would know it’s time. I would stop in mid-lecture and the whole class would freeze in silence. Moments later, we would hear the explosions as they drop the bombs off down the city. They were so loud! We could even feel the shock waves. After the last bomb exploded, I would resume the class as if nothing happened,” she recalled.
DEALING WITH THE CHALLENGE
Mascara is the first teacher from Marawi who volunteered to teach at the TLS. She used to teach at the Amai Pakpak Central Elementary School until the siege forced her to relocate to the nearby Saguiaran town.
She shared, “I felt miserable seeing that my pupils had to endure this. When it’s sunny, it would be hot and humid inside and when it rains, water would enter through the tent’s seams and make our floor muddy. In spite of these, my pupils kept their perseverance. Seeing them in that kind of situation was too much for me. I would go out of the tent just to cry. I do not want them to see me crying because I do not want them to be discouraged. I want them to see that I was being strong amid everything.”
To help her project a more dignified appearance in front of her pupils, she would use the make-up kit given to teachers like her by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).
One day, a rumor that the ISIS-inspired terrorists have broken into Saguiaran spread like wildfire. Panicked parents rushed to the school to pick up their children. Mascara herself and her husband decided to leave for Manila to ensure the safety of their six kids.
She settled to start a new life in Metro Manila away from the conflict. She began the process of transferring to a school in Metro Manila to teach, but deep inside, something felt wrong.
Unable to hold back her tears, she said, “My mind was set that I will never return but one night I had a dream. My pupils were calling for me, ‘Teacher Tanji, please come back.’ The following morning, I told my husband to buy me a plane ticket. He asked me why and I said that my pupils need me. If I have to transfer, not this year. I talked to my fellow teacher over the phone and I could hear my pupils in the background. I have to come back. My pupils and I have to survive this together. As a teacher, my commitment is to my pupils.”
A SECOND MOM
Mascara went back to Marawi by herself with the support of her family, driven by her own maternal instincts to help her “children” in distress.
“I saw how persistent my pupils are with their studies in spite of their situation. That kept me from giving up. Even when it rains and the floor turns to mud, they would still come. That’s how determined they are to finish Grade 6.”
Just recently, her 82 pupils finished Grade 6 and 35 of them were able to pass scholarship exams for high school. Mascara could not be more proud.
“My dream is that they all finish their studies. I call them ‘my ever special pupils.’ In fact, I kept their master list. I made it laminated so that a few years from now, when I see college graduation congratulatory tarpaulins in the streets, I will check their names and I would know if they were able to graduate. I wish that they become successful in life,” she said.
THE BRAVE KIDS OF MARAWI
At their tender age, Teacher Mascara’s pupils Relanie Mohammadali and Anna Farina Tabao have already endured what most Filipino kids have not: being caught in an armed conflict.
Tabao, 13-years-old was at home with her family when the fighting erupted. She hid with her siblings in their bedroom, screaming in fear.
“I want to say to other kids that they are very fortunate that they were not able to experience what we have been through. When we were told to evacuate, I was really frightened and nervous that a stray bullet might hit us,” she said.
Just like her, 12-year-old Mohammaldi and his family evacuated during the panic that followed the fighting.
Sadly, his eldest brother who just graduated from college was shot to death after being suspected of being a terrorist.
“We evacuated to Saguiaran. My brother went back to our house to get rice because Ramadan was approaching. On his way back, he was shot and killed. They thought he was an ISIS fighter. I could not sleep for days. I cried a lot,” the boy said.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Despite everything, the two children went on with their studies when the school year started. The fear that the fighting might reach them was constant considering that the airstrikes were only a few kilometers away from the TLS, but the pupils chose to be brave. Their problem was their school materials were destroyed along with their houses.
Mohammadali said, “We left my school uniforms, books, and other things behind because we thought the fighting would last for just a few days. They were destroyed or burnt.”
Thankfully, various groups like PBSP provided them with much-needed supplies. The two T-shirts included in the student kits which also consist of a bag, an umbrella and hygiene products, were particularly helpful since most of the pupils were only able to salvage the clothes they were wearing they day they evacuated from Marawi.
Mohamaadali and Tabao are among Teacher Mascara’s pupils who recently graduated from Grade 6 after spending one whole school year studying inside a tent classroom.
Tabao said she wants to become a doctor when she grows up.
“I want to help people,” she said.
One year after the siege, Mohammadali still lives at the evacuation center because their house was completely destroyed. But he is a strong boy and remains positive and hopeful.
The siege has taken so much from him but still, there are things it was not able to get from him: his smile and dreams.
“My dream is to become a lawyer one day so that I’ll be able to uphold justice. I want to prove that my brother was innocent. I also dream that Marawi City will return to what it once was,” he said.
Mascara, Tabao, and Mohammadali are just a few of the many people assisted by PBSP’s relief missions in the area.
PBSP has been giving various kinds of support to the affected families since the first few weeks of the siege. We were able to engage 96 corporate and 112 individual donors in raising a total of Php33M worth of cash and in-kind donations. These benefitted over 55,000 evacuees during its six relief missions in Marawi City, Baloi and Pantar in Lanao del Norte, Saguiaran in Lanao del Sur, and Iligan City.
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For the second phase of our SOS Marawi and #Stay Strong campaigns, PBSP is focusing on providing sustainable rehabilitation and recovery initiatives to support the families’ varying needs at this critical stage of rebuilding. These include livelihood interventions that open up economic opportunities for the affected people. PBSP has also partnered with the government’s Task Force Bangon Marawi and local NGOs to ensure alignment and complementation of efforts for this cause.