Peace advocate: Children 'confused' between good, bad in Marawi crisis

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) — Maranao princess and peace advocate Bai Rohaniza "Honey" Sumndad-Usman said some children affected by the Marawi crisis have moral confusion — and peace education is the way to combat it.

The founder of the NGO Teach Peace Build Peace Movement said she was shocked when she discovered some children looked up to extremist groups.

"What really surprised us was when we asked about their hopes and dreams. Between the age bracket of 7 to 12 years old, some of the kids mentioned that they wanted to join a group... doing violent acts," Sumndad-Usman told CNN Philippines' The Source.

She noted some of the children had pleasant encounters with these fighters, who even offered them food.

"Nagkaroon na po sila ng [They have a] confusion between what is right and wrong, who is good and bad," said Sumndad-Usman. "That's why in our peace education sessions... we did a values clarification."

Her organization teaches peace education to children, including those affected by the conflict in Marawi. Their modules aim to impart critical thinking and the differences between peaceful practices and violent ones.

Sumndad-Usman maintains education is the most sustainable way to combat extremist ideology.

"These kids, even older generations, will always be exposed to negativities around us... That's why we have to develop their critical thinking skills," she said.

She also tearfully recalled the living conditions in evacuation centers.

"Pagdating po namin doon, pinipigil namin umiyak. We were so overwhelmed," she said. "Ang isa sa mga kuwento ng volunteers namin, sabi niya ang kanyang unan ay sako ng bigas at ang kanyang blanket at tarpaulin. Imagine that kind of trauma children have to undergo at a very, very young age."

[Translation: When we got there, we held back our tears. We were so overwhelmed... One of our volunteers said her pillow was a sack of rice and her blanket was a tarpaulin.]

According to Task Force Bangon Marawi, there are still at least 1,000 families scattered across 40 evacuation centers. A count from April 20 this year says that at least 45,000 more families are considered home-based displaced.

Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong also said quickly catering to the needs of the displaced would help combat violent ideology.

He said responding to the emergency needs of survivors would "rob any terrorist group the chance to capitalize on the destruction of Marawi as a PR to entice potential fighters."

"The intensity of military response during the siege against the terrorists must level or equal the intensity of help and services we provide to the people concerned," he said.