There were multiple gunshots nearby.
Fatima*, an 11-year-old girl, quickly left her house – together with her siblings, young relatives, and only one adult.
"Our parents told us to get on the jeepney to join other children, so we can get out of Marawi," Fatima said in her mother tongue.
"All of us were crying, we were afraid that the Maute (local armed group) might find us and kill us," she added.
Fatima's parents told her to seek safety in a relative’s farm just outside the city. They promised to soon follow her.
For two agonizing days, however, Fatima didn't see her parents.
The thought of her parents being harmed or captured was all she and her siblings could think of as they wept and waited for them. (READ: Save Marawi's Children)
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Fatima is only one of many Filipino children displaced by the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The clash broke out between government forces and a local armed group on May 23, 2017.
After two days of seeking refuge, displaced children like Fatima were finally reunited with their parents in an evacuation area just outside the border of Marawi.
“We hugged our parents when we saw them. We cried," Fatima shared.
"Our parents were worried because the farm where we stayed was very far from town," she continued. "And we did not have anything to eat."
"We thought we would never see our parents again because we heard how violent the armed group is."
Fatima's family currently lives with relatives in the neighboring municipality of Saguiran.
Going back to school
Fatima is now enrolled at a host school, together with her 10-year-old cousins, Abdul* and Sathia*.
All three children fled Marawi together, only taking a few clothes with them.
Although they're excited to return to class, the truth is that most host schools lack school supplies like paper and pencils.
Life before the conflict
Before the clashes began, life for children like Fatima was happier back in Marawi.
On weekends, they were free to play. They also helped their parents with household chores and looking after younger siblings.
“We were happy in Marawi because we can play all we want," Abdul said in his mother tongue. "We had our own house, and our parents sold eggs and vegetables in the market to earn money."
"I was happy back home because we had food there," Sathia chimed in. "I often ate my favorite meal, chicken adobo. Now, my mother claims our food [at the evacuation center] but it's not enough for us because there's just too many of us here."
Host towns accommodating displaced families have started to set-up evacuation sites.
As of June 20, nearly 310,000 people from Marawi have been displaced, the Department of National Defense and the Office of Civil Defense reported.
This is more than the 2015 total population census of over 200,000.
Fatima’s current host town is accommodating a large portion of internally displaced people.
Due to the surge in number of evacuees, some schools are now used as evacuation centers. Many of these evacuees are school-aged children, hence the need for additional classrooms.
The problem, however, goes beyond the lack of classrooms. The entire school population has been displaced.
After the school was transformed into an evacuation center, the landowner of the area where the school was built reclaimed his property – forcing the entire school to move to the nearby community hall.
The space that used to be a community stage and a covered basketball court is now filled with school desks and roughly built blackboards.
Despite such discouraging conditions, Fatima and her cousins remain undeterred. They're still very eager to learn.
Saving Marawi's children
“Although we would rather attend school in Marawi because there we can buy things we need in school, we're just as happy even if we were to hold classes here in the gym," Sathida explained.
"What's important is that we continue our schooling so we'll be educated when we grow up."
When asked what are the most important things they left behind in Marawi, all three children said the same thing: clothes, school bags, and rice.
A month after the clashes began, Save the Children has set-up 13 Temporary Learning Spaces in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. These are large tents which can be used as additional classrooms.
Seven more will be set-up in other schools.
Back-to-school kits will also be distributed to schoolchildren in the towns of Balo-i, Pantar, and Saguiaran.
Save the Children intends to reach at least 2,000 children with its school-based Psychosocial Support activities. This is to ensure that children’s anxieties and fears are properly addressed.
We will also train teachers, in line with the Department of Education’s Psychological First Aid modules.
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*Names have been changed to protect the identities of children.