For over two years now, an evacuation center just a few meters from the national highway in South Upi, Maguindanao has become a regular refuge for indigenous peoples from the Teduray tribe.
In July 2019, the more than 500 families from the tribe were uprooted from their farms in the mountainous region of South Upi after heavily armed men fired shots in the air that echoed through the vast valley, terrorizing the villagers.
It was the start of a land dispute nightmare that would trigger repeated displacement.
After another incident during New Year’s Eve, hundreds of lumad (indigenous peoples) families fled anew, some ending up in evacuation centers and others staying at their relatives’ homes.
To address the needs of the internally-displaced people (IDP) in South Upi, Oxfam and partner organizations under the “Response to the Unmet Humanitarian Needs of the Most Vulnerable Conflict-Affected Population in Mindanao” (REACH) Project provided for solar-powered communal street lighting systems and WASH facilities (water, sanitation and hygiene) like toilets and bathrooms.
Besides Oxfam, the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid-funded REACH project is jointly implemented by United Youth of the Philippines-Women, Community Organizers Multiversity – CO Multiversity, IDEALS, Inc., CARE Philippines, ACCORD Incorporated, and Action Against Hunger Philippines.
“The solar-powered communal lighting system is very helpful because the camp is no longer veiled by darkness during night time. Our children would conduct individual or group studies under the communal lamp for their modular classes,” said Bibiana Andres, president of the women’s association Fagayugoy de Melitedted Libun deb Kuya (Famelik).
The communal solar light also gave the evacuees a feeling of security at night. Bibiana said they used to rely on open-pit or the nearby river to answer the call of nature.
“It’s dangerous especially at night because it is dark. With the construction of the WASH facilities, it improved our hygiene practices. At night, we can now use [the facilities] without fear because of the illumination from the solar power light,” Bibiana said.
Besides being given solar lights for the community’s safety, under the REACH project, the lumad IDPs were also given goats, ducks and chickens to improve their livelihood. They were also oriented about health, hygiene and the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the benefits they derived from the solar-powered communal light and the WASH facilities, members of the Famelik, which is composed of 65 women, have taken it upon themselves to maintain the facilities without expecting monetary compensation.
“We follow a schedule or assignment on who are those due to clean-up on what day,” Bibiana said.
“By taking good care of the solar-powered lighting system and the WASH facilities , it’s a way of showing our gratitude, respect and value to what we had received,” she added.
For 13-year-old Ferilyn Tenorio, whose family decided to stay at the evacuation center, the solar-powered lighting system helped her complete her modular classes, a study method adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ferilyn, who just completed Grade 7, said she wants to become a policewoman someday to protect her community from bad elements.
“During day time, I would be in the farm helping the family till the land. We would go back before sunset and I would study at night. Sometimes, me and my friends would gather around the solar-powered communal lamp to study as a group,” Ferilyn, the third of eight siblings, said.
While some of the families have returned home, more than a dozen IDPs still stay in the evacuation camp, fearing that armed men would strike anytime at their remote farms up in the mountains. Those who remain are still able to use the solar lights and the WASH facilities.
This year’s World Humanitarian Day, which is celebrated every August 19, is focused on climate emergency, which is brought by the changing climate that is wreaking havoc on the environment across the world. In response to this, Oxfam and its partner organizations are highlighting renewable energy solutions for humanitarian actions. #