Looking After the Children of Marawi - Blueboard by Anne Lan K. Candelaria, PhD

October 24, 2017

Last October 17, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City liberated from terrorist influence. This statement marked the beginning of the City’s rehabilitation after a span of nearly five months of war. The conflict caused unimaginable damage not only to property and infrastructure, but also more importantly to the lives of fellow Filipinos:  over a thousand people have been killed, and more than 300,000 residents were displaced.
 
Education as a Hidden Cost of Conflict
In a roundtable discussion with the Manila Bulletin last week, Secretary Briones of the Department of Education disclosed that all 59 public schools in MarawiCiy have been affected by the conflict, with about 20 of these totally destroyed and the rest needing major repairs.  Government estimates it needs P4 billion to rehabilitate damaged schools alone.  This does not include the cost to replace books, instructional materials, laboratories, libraries and other essential resources for teaching and learning.
 
Save the Children accounts that around 80,000 children are affected by the conflict in Marawi City, many of whom will need long-term psychosocial and other kinds of support.  Of these, around 60,000 are school children who have been deprived of their right to education. 
 
According to report published by UNESCO, globally there are approximately 57 million children in 2011 who are out of school because of conflict.  This is equivalent to half of the world’s out-of-school children who are denied an education.  Sadly, education is rarely incorporated in the assessment of damage caused by conflict.  Many government and private organizations focus on the most immediate and tangible concern. Hence, the bulk of rebuilding efforts and funding goes to rehabilitation of infrastructure and the likes.  Education, on the other hand, receives a smaller share of funding.  For example, analysis made by the EFA Global Monitoring Report team has shown that humanitarian aid for education declined from 2.2% in 2009 to 1.4% in 2012 even if humanitarian crises are increasing.
 
Violence as a Human Experience of Displacement
Ultimately, the disruption and displacement has caused a lasting legacy of violencein the lives of the children of Marawi.  The conflict did not only cause damage in the school buildings and classrooms, but also in the hopes and dreams of a whole generation.  Many of them has lost family members andendured separation from relatives, not to mention the lost of homes and other possessions. Poor health and hygiene conditions, inadequate nutrition, unsafe environment and the lack of child-friendly spaces in evacuation centers can exacerbate the effects of trauma among children as well.
 
And then there are the teachers who have experienced the same trauma and violence as their students. It is estimated that over a thousand teachers from Marawi City has been displaced.Like the children, they too will need a long-term psychosocial support and other types of intervention to overcome the suffering caused by the conflict. 
 
Rebuilding Marawi City
It has been said that the government needs P50 billion to rebuild Marawi. Unfortunately, the hidden cost of rebuilding the city cannot be estimated as precisely for it is impossible to put a price tag on the restoration of a child’s dream or a teacher’s aspiration. Still, it will be very irresponsible to talk about rebuilding a great city like Marawi if such conversation does not include the restoration of the hopes, desires, and ambitions of the children who were displaced, whose rights violated, and whose voices silenced. 
 
It must be said however that in finding a more sustainable way to rebuild Marawi, we should learn from the mistakes we made in the past.  We’ve had many previous attempts of finding lasting solutions to displacement caused by conflict or natural disasters but these all led to disappointment. Why? It is because those who were displaced were not given the right to choose what the solution they preferred given their circumstances.While there is nothing wrong with relying on experts, it is critical that policymakers should include the people who were affected by disasters in the policy process.
 
If we do not heed this hidden cost strategically, it will leave a lifetime of damage and disadvantage to tens of thousands of childrenlong after the last gun is fired and peace has been restored.And owing to our mistakes in the past, the institutions that will be tasked to rebuild Marawi City must ensure that those affected by the conflict must be given the right to determine what should be done.  After all, it is their city, their home and most importantly, their children’s future.
 
 
 
 
Anne Candelaria is currently the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs of the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools.  She is also a faculty member of the Department of Political Science in the same university.