For two straight years now, more than 500 Moro families from a village in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao have been spending Ramadan away from their homes.
The intermittent violent clashes between government forces and armed groups have repeatedly forced the villagers to flee.
Most villagers could no longer count with their fingers the times they sought refuge at various evacuation centers in town.
For the last five years, the families have been able to seek solace at the nearby village through the generosity of a local clan who allowed the internally displaced persons (IDPs) or “bakwits” to use the 4-hectare coconut farm as a go-to evacuation camp.
The worst displacement they suffered so far was in the last two years — as they were uprooted in the time of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims.
Their disrupted lives were made worse by the lack of electricity in the camp, gravely affecting their religious practices, among others.
During prayer times at the mosque, the Imam or religious leader could barely be heard by those at the back due to the lack of a public address system. During night time, the whole camp would be pitched in darkness.
Fortunately, Oxfam Philippines and partner organizations’ under the “Response to the Unmet Humanitarian Needs of the Most Vulnerable Conflict-Affected Population in Mindanao” or REACH Project were able to give a solar-powered loudspeaker system, a communal solar-powered lighting system and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities to the evacuation camp in time for Ramadan last year.
The REACH Project, funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, is jointly implemented by Oxfam, Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), Inc., United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), CARE Philippines, Assistance and Cooperation for Resilience and Development (ACCORD) Inc., and Action Against Hunger Philippines.
Nok Sukor, a kagawad or member of the village council, said the solar-powered loudspeaker system greatly helped the IDPs perform their religious duties during the last two observances of the Ramadan.
The loudspeaker comes in the form of a trompa, a trumpet-shaped speaker mounted on a bamboo pole that stands high above the small makeshift mosque.
“We used the trompa for the azan (Islamic call to prayer) and during the prayer time itself. It can be heard throughout the entire camp,” Nok said.
Muslims pray five times a day — at 4:30 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. But as early as 2 a.m., the loudspeaker is already being utilized to wake up the IDPs in time for food preparation since fasting lasts from 4:30 a.m. until sunset.
The public address system was assembled using a solar panel, car battery, inverter and a loudspeaker.
With recent studies showing the drastic and irreversible effects of climate change, renewable energy solutions, especially for vulnerable communities, are critical. Nok said the use of a solar-powered loudspeaker was not only environment-friendly but also economical.
Aside from using the solar-powered loudspeaker for prayers, village officials also use it to disseminate important information such as distribution of relief goods, meetings and announcements from the local government.
“Instead of going house-to-house, important announcements are made through the trompa. The community knows, all at the same time, what is happening around them,” Nok said. Among the information disseminated using the loudspeaker are reminders on COVID-19 prevention and hygiene promotion as part of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) activities.
As of August 2021, only 50 families out of the 500 have remained at the camp since their displacement last May. Although officials cleared their village for return, these families opted to remain in the evacuation camp for fear clashes will erupt anytime between the military and the armed groups.
From trapals or plastic tents that they originally mounted years ago, the camp now hosts makeshift houses that are made of light materials, an indication that the villagers are anticipating returning to the evacuation center anytime. The land’s owners had also started supplying the mosque with free electricity.
In the meantime, the solar-powered loudspeaker has been locked in one of the houses for safekeeping. It can be pulled out and put in use once the need arises, Nok said. However, he said he would rather have the conflict between the government forces and armed groups settled with certainty. The hope is that villagers would no longer face displacement so they can finally achieve lasting peace and be able to stay in their own homes without fear.
The IDPs from Shariff Aguak are among the thousands of families across Mindanao who will have to endure life in the evacuation center as countries celebrate World Humanitarian Day on August 19. This year’s World Humanitarian Day is putting the spotlight on the climate emergency, brought about by the human-driven climate change that is causing people to lose their homes, livelihoods and lives. In response, Oxfam Philippines is promoting sustainable solutions for a more resilient future. #