‘Our family has settled here in Zamboanga City, Philippines since 2008. We have a five-year-old son, Toby, and a two-month-old daughter, Blair. On the morning of September 9, 2013, we were awakened by a series of gunshots heard from a distance. We hurriedly tuned in to a radio to find out that communities here in Zamboanga had been held hostage by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebel group. What ensued then made these communities an urban war zone between the rebels and the Philippine government.
‘We were just a few kilometres from the centre of the war zone so we had to be ready to leave our home if needed. In just a few minutes my wife and I were able to pack two bags of clothes for us and the children; an inflatable bed that we bought for guests who came over to visit for Christmas; an old camping tent; and a baby stroller. The gun battles have reached its seventh day, as of writing, and fortunately for us there was no need to use these items. We were able to survive without having to evacuate our home.
‘Fires have spread’
‘There are 62,000 people who do not share the same luck that we have had. They are spread across evacuation sites in the city. During the last seven days, houses have been burnt down in the communities where rebels held their ground. Since day two, fires have spread around these communities and firefighters were driven out by rebel snipers. Families in the evacuation sites fear that, even after this conflict, they may never have a house to come home to.
‘I happened to come across your website to find whatever I could to be able to help. I have found your organisation most capable of helping out in this humanitarian crisis. I hope that you will be able to assist families start anew.’
Alvan Pepito is one of the lucky families in Zamboanga as the violence continues. He sent this email to the ShelterBox Operations Team without knowing that the international disaster relief charity was already responding.
‘Following a request from International Organization for Migration (IOM), we sent the remaining of our ShelterBox tents that were prepositioned in the Filipino city Clark to Zamboanga,’ said Operations Manager Alf Evans.
‘Shelter and safety’
‘Even though we have in-country ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) members, we could not risk sending them to the conflict zone out of a duty of care and responsibility we uphold for all of our volunteers. Therefore IOM, which has an office in the country, acted as our implementing partner and distributed them to families in desperate need of shelter and safety.’
The ongoing standoff between a faction of the MNLF and Government forces has left approximately 132 people dead, with roughly 158,000 people affected and over 10,000 homes destroyed. Estimates suggest over 109,000 people are displaced in Zamboanga City.
ShelterBox and IOM is also working with Rotary and the country’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to set up the ShelterBox tents at Cawa Cawa evacuation camp in Zamboanga City. To date, 270 have been installed.
DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said that the tents will significantly improve the dwelling conditions of the displaced families particularly the women, children, elderly and persons with disability.