“I will become a police officer someday to catch the criminals,” says 4-year old Kunai from Maguindanao in Southern Philippines.
Although a spirited boy, Kunai’s cleft lip condition has made him a subject of bullying by other children in the village. “It deeply saddens us that our son goes through that,” Salma, 23, shared. “We want to get him an operation but we can’t afford it. We consulted the health center and waiting for updates for a free operation.”
Despite his condition, he is excited to go to school for the first time to start fulfilling his dream. “It makes us happy that our son is eager to go to school. That’s the dream I have for all my children, I want them to finish school,” she said.
Salma, her husband, and three children live in an elevated shack in Barangay Ganoy, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao whereclash between military and rebel forces often break. Just last March this year, Salma and her family witnessed a crossfire between Philippine military forces and insurgent group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
“The bullets were facing our house. We dropped to ground and covered our heads,” Salma recalled. “Last year, when the same thing happened, I was pregnant.”
Salma said that the crossfire subsided last October but rumors in their village have circulated that there will be another clash in December. Their neighbors have already packed their bags so they could immediately leave once the clash begins again.
“Our family will stay with our relatives in the next village until the conflict here ends,” said Salma about their plan in cases of emergencies.
Moreover, because it is rainy season, her community is currently facing a flood. Her village is located near a river and a marsh that overflows whenever it rains hard. On top of that, “The floods could drown a person,” Salma shared. “Even with an elevated house, the floods sometimes reach here. Last year, the flood came in while we were sleeping and woke us up in the middle of the night, soaked.”
Their response to the flood was building furniture where they can step on to avoid being soaked.
The floods interfere with the community’s livelihood and source of food. Her husband, Nasrodin, is a carpenter who earns 300 pesos a day at most. On bad days, they only earn 100 pesos a day. He builds furniture at his employer’s request. But there are days when he doesn’t earn income because it takes three days to build the furniture, and the floods make it hard to deliver the products.
“Sometimes, my boss also doesn’t pay me on time because he uses up the money to buy raw materials for the furniture,” said Nasrodin. On other occasions, he added, he’s the one who asks for cash advances when they have no money left to buy food.
They satisfy themselves with vegetables and fish worth 10 pesos they buy in the market. They cannot grow their own vegetables because of the floods.
Salma first met Save the Children through the Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) project which helps children and parents learn outside formal schooling.
“The one lesson that stuck to me was that we shouldn’t hurt children when we’re trying to discipline them,” Salma shared. She said the sessions on positive discipline improved the way she communicated with her children.
“My sons once engaged in a fist fight where I reprimanded them and told them not to do it again,” she added. “They obey, but sometimes they forget because they’re children.”
Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces, a project supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) with the goal of providing children opportunities for play and learning while ensuring their safety and protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence.
“This is a great initiative because we’ve learned a lot as parents, and the children are able to enjoy and study for free,” Salma expressed.
The project began last May this year and will end this November. As of now, the project is conducting their Lessons Learned Workshops for the Maguindanao Local Government Unit, Save the Children Staff, and partners and handover ceremonies in barangay levels.