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PHILIPPINES: Muslim youth work towards peace in Mindanao

MANILA, 14 January 2010 (IRIN) - With its mosques, colourful buildings and veiled girls going to Madrasa schools, Maharlika village resembles a Mindanao town rather than a Manila suburb.

Established as a government housing project by the National Housing Authority (NHA) in the 1970s, Maharlika village has become a favoured destination in the capital for Muslims fleeing the conflict.

"My family came to Manila to escape war in Maguindanao [province]. Here in Maharlika Village, we are among fellow Muslims," Al-hesam Ebrahim, 19, told IRIN.

Ebrahim's parents fled Mindanao years ago. A student of architectural engineering and technology at the Technology University of the Philippines, Ebrahim says, "Years from now, I want to be famous for building houses, bridges and buildings."

But Ebrahim also dreams of returning to Mindanao where many of his relatives remain, their lives marked by constant displacement and uncertainty.

"I want to help build roads and schools there [in Mindanao]. My life is so different - and so much better - compared to my cousins' lives there who are the same age.

"I have cousins who are 17 years old, but only in grade 6. They had to stop studying because their schools were used as evacuation centres. Others have families already, which I think curtails their chances of improvement. My father, for example, was able to leave Maguindanao to come to Manila, but his sisters could not because they already had children to look after."

Decades of conflict

Mineral-rich Mindanao has been plagued by armed conflict for almost four decades. The fight for self-determination led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) broke out in renewed hostilities in August 2008 when a memorandum that would have given the MILF control over land claimed to be its ancestral domain was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Nearly 400 people were killed and 700,000 people displaced.

More than 17 months on, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) says an estimated 126,225 people, mostly in the municipalities of Datu Piang, Mamasapano, and Datu Saudi remain internally displaced.

"Many areas have been declared safe to return by the military, but many IDPs chose to remain in the evacuation centres or with friends and relatives out of fear," Datukan Mokamad, Welfare Assistant, DSWD Maguindanao.

The government has extended more than US$10 million in humanitarian assistance to Maguindanao.

From IDP to social worker

Growing up in the Liguasan wetland in Maguindanao, Aleem Siddiqu Guiapal started dodging bullets and mortar shells at the age of three.

"I was an IDP. My family lost a lot of their land and my mother lost her brother, who was a rebel," Guiapal told IRIN.

Guiapal managed to leave the conflict zone by the time he was about to go to university. He studied at Mindanao State University and was later awarded a scholarship by the Asian Development Bank to pursue a Master's in Development Management.

Now 32, he has decided to use his education to give back to his homeland. As project director of the Young Moro Professional Network (YMPN) - a group comprising some 200 Muslim scholars, students and professionals who use their skills to alleviate the plight of marginalized Muslim communities, Guiapal now calls himself a social worker.

Recently, the YMPN was able to raise $4,000 for a feeding and rehabilitation programme for the displaced in Maguindanao.

"We inspire other Muslim youth to be successful in their field and contribute to making a better Mindanao," says Guiapal. "We also act as a channel of information for employment and scholarships because of our network in Asia and the US. We help open doors."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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