RAGFP Peacebuilder Club Leads Peace Mission to Restore Lives in War-torn Region

“Many obstacles to the expansion of goodwill have presented themselves.” – Paul Harris

Paul Harris wrote those words in his second book, This Rotarian Age, published in 1933. “To leave matters as they were was to be in popular favor,” he continued. But, “War pays neither victor nor vanquished, and at its very best is the very worst that human beings know.” Rotarian peacebuilders never “leave matters as they were,” especially when war devastates the most vulnerable populations in their communities.

Marawi City is a quiet town in Lanao del Sur Province of the Philippines. It boasts a proud Filipino heritage and is alive with culture. It is a place of rich natural resources and is home to friendly people who lived in peace with their neighbors. This gentle lifestyle enjoyed by the residents was shattered on May 23, 2017, as Maute terrorists stormed the city. The Maute group militants ransacked the city’s infrastructure and took control of buildings, including a hospital, and Mindanao State University. Airstrikes by the Philippine Air Force turned the city into a war zone, and the ordeal caused fear and anxiety among the peaceful residents who fled for their lives.

People evacuated to other cities in the region such as neighboring Iligan and Cagayan. Conditions were poor in evacuation centers and residents of Marawi City depended upon relief agencies and government assistance for everyday survival. Many of the residents, especially children, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the war.

Rotarians in the very first RAGFP Peacebuilder Club registered in Asia, The Rotary Club of Makati Olympia (RCMO), recognized an opportunity for Rotarian service. They organized a peace mission and traveled to the region to assist people living in horrific conditions at the Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) evacuation site in Marawi. The mission was organized as a celebration of the International Day of Peace on September 21, 2017.

RCMO club leaders coordinated with the Rotary clubs of Iligan Maria Cristina, Metro Ranao and Marawi to assist the Task Force Ranao. Other regional partners included Peace Mission Marawi and the Giving Hope Building Dreams Project. Rotarians also sought input from the Department of Education to assist school children who could no longer study because of the war in their region. They intended to restore as much “normalcy” as possible back to the lives of these children, despite every obstacle to the expansion of goodwill that stood before them.

“Ahmad, a six-year-old kid became the face of the Peace Mission,” wrote Rose Acoba, the Charter President of RCMO and reporter for the club. “The youngest among a family of 6, he mirrored fear and devastation that the refugees were experiencing.”

The young boy also touched the hearts of other RCMO club members including past president Ju Abdulcadir, who helped coordinate the peace mission with RCMO’s sister Rotary clubs. “When I saw him, I couldn’t help but notice how lost he was. Despite receiving a stuffed toy, which I knew he was so excited to get, he could not even muster a smile; and there were tears in his eyes as if begging me to explain why they were in such a situation.”

“When PP Ju returned, he said that everyone, be it the evacuees, or those who accompanied him in the mission, had a story to tell,” reported Acoba. “Even the Rotarians from the local sister clubs were not spared from the effects of the conflict. Rotarian Mic Gandamra said that she had lost her family’s ancestral home to the war. Rotarian Jam Mutin (RC Metro Ranao) still lives in fear–she was there when the invasion started.”

Acoba says RCMO continued assisting those affected by the conflict even after their initial peace mission and the war ended. “This Peace Mission Marawi opened another avenue for RCMO to foster peace for the 840 children who are victims of conflict through its donation of school supplies and hygiene kits, stuffed toys for the kids to hug especially when fear overcomes them, and stress debriefing activities like the ‘Oly Em Pia’ peace game devised by our club, and a storytelling session.”

Young Ahmed became the enduring face of the Rotary Club of Makati Olympia’s Peace Mission to the war-torn region of Marawi City.

RAGFP Peacebuilder Club’s Peace Mission Marawi

The Rotary Club of Makati Olympia demonstrates that Rotarian peacebuilders understand how those affected by conflict need continuing assistance, even as they return home to local infrastructures devastated by war. Marawi is now liberated, but families still needed help in rebuilding their lives, homes, and communities. Besides serving children who were gripped with fear upon their return to the city, RCMO also initiated an Apopt-a-Marawi Family program to provide rebuilding support for all residents of Marawi City. The program hosted a Livelihood Summit that distributed financial assistance to selected beneficiaries and provided start-up capital for victims so they could resume their lives so greatly disrupted by the war. The effects of their programs are still producing positive results over a year since they first traveled to the area on a peace mission to provide essential humanitarian aid to refugees.

Rotarian peacebuilders know peace through service is not a “one and done” project of just rushing in to provide humanitarian aid and then “leaving things as they were,” according to Paul Harris. These Rotarian peacebuilders expanded this peace mission and helped refugees, like young Ahmed, rebuild their lives in the once-quiet and proud region of Marawi City. Rotarians overcome all obstacles that present themselves in the expansion of goodwill.