March 23, 2018

With Books, Hope Comes to War-Torn Marawi

After months of conflict, books signal a return to normalcy in the Philippines.

“I am more than excited to share these books,” says Zenaida Naga (second row, fifth from left).

Boxes full of textbooks lay in front of Zenaida Naga. She excitedly looked through them, pulling out books on electronics, welding, and business. Then she picked up a few selections and hugged them to herself, smiling as she did so.

It was a deeply personal experience for Naga, an educator in Marawi City, Philippines. In May 2017, both the school and library she manages were destroyed when conflict broke out between government forces and militants associated with the ISIS terrorist group. The siege of Marawi lasted five months, caused massive destruction across the city, and displaced more than 300,000 people.

Now, months after the conflict has ended, Naga is thrilled to hold new titles. In addition to restocking her own school library, she also plans on sharing the books with other academic institutions that were affected by the conflict.

“It’s like finding treasures,” she says. “I am more than excited to share these books with our partners in Marawi. These will bring them so much joy because they also lost a lot during the siege.”

Since peace returned to Marawi in October 2017, EDC’s USAID-funded Mindanao Youth for Development  (MYDev) project has been helping local residents and internally displaced persons regain a sense of normalcy. In partnership with the project’s Out-of-School Youth Development Alliances, MYDev has been organizing book distribution efforts—such as the one attended by Naga—to promote education, recovery, and reconciliation. MYDev is also supporting internally displaced persons by offering psychosocial interventions and developing classroom-based educational materials that discuss the conflict.

But the book deliveries have had the most immediate impact on individuals trying to re-establish their daily routines, says EDC’s Nancy Wallace.

“Access to books provides an opportunity for youth—whether they are in or out of school—to continue to learn and engage in normal activities,” says Wallace. “Many internally displaced people lost their homes and all their possessions. Having access to books is a tangible step to recovery.”

In December 2017, MYDev distributed 436 titles donated by publisher McGraw Hill to conflict-affected schools and educational institutions across Marawi. This March and April, MYDev will distribute an additional 20,000 volumes to schools through a partnership with Books for Africa, a Minnesota-based nonprofit.

These deliveries are making a significant difference for schools such as the Lanao Islamic Paramedical College Foundation, which was closed for five months during the conflict. Principal Pinky Macasindel says that reopening the college made her feel like they were “starting all over from scratch.”

“We are still in a recovery stage, but we have already started our classes,” she says. “These books will serve as our guide in training our youth.”

Though recovery has not been easy, residents are hopeful that peace will last—and that MYDev’s efforts will have a lasting impact.

“The siege of Marawi was a painful reminder that there is still so much to be done when it comes to building a better future for our youth,” says Naga. “We are here to fulfill our commitment of molding the youth to become better citizens of this country.”