Peacebuilding group readies help for kids traumatized by Marawi crisis

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 25) —  Amid calls for halal food and clothes for evacuees from the Marawi City crisis, a group calls for unusual donations: art materials and stuffed toys.

"Kids are most vulnerable to extreme situations such as armed confrontations and the trauma that comes with it may become long term if not addressed in the proper time," says artist AG Saño, a member of the board of directors of the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement.

Saño said the trauma experienced by the children from the crisis in Marawi City, which has a population of more than 201,000,  must be addressed.

"The future of these children may depend on how they cope with the trauma that this present conflict may cause them and we, as a community, should exert whatever effort we can to help ease the various pains they will be going through, fear, and a big deal of insecurity being some of them," he said.

Saño said their group will go to evacuation centers outside Marawi City as soon as the city is no longer on lockdown.

"We have local volunteers there who are helping us now assess the evacuation centers and partners from the security sector. Since we are a volunteer-based organization and the safety of everyone is our primary concern, we will wait for the advice of the security sector" as to when they can begin work, he said.

His group, composed of advocates trained for peace building education and community engagement in times of conflict, use art and music as a form of "peacebuilding."

"We guide the kids on how to express themselves through art using the materials given to them by global strangers out of pure love and concern," Sano said.

Sano, who is also a mural artist, said art and music help children process their feelings over traumatic events.

"We are also gathering soft toys that we shall send to the evacuation sites for kids to have something to hug and hold on to to partly relieve them of the internal pain, fear and trauma," Sano said.

The crisis in Marawi City, which is the capital of the province of Lanao del Sur, prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare Martial Law in Mindanao.

Seven soldiers, two policemen, and at least 13 Maute members have been killed, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said Thursday, adding that 32 government troops were wounded.

The Maute group took eight people hostage, including a Catholic priest in Marawi City, church officials said.

The local government of Iligan, which is 38 kilometers north of Marawi, has prepared three evacuation centers for evacuees, said officials.

On Thursday, there were  40 evacuees at the Iligan City School of Fisheries in Brgy. Buruun. This center is expected to take in  some 200 evacuees, said the Social Welfare Department.

Read: Residents flee Marawi City amid clashes

Teach Peace Build Peace movement's head of secretariat Bernadette Fernandez said their group will also organize the youth in Marawi to sustain the program.

While the hashtag #PrayForMarawi trends on social media, Sano said these words of support may not reach the children, hence their relief program.

"They won't have the chance to see and read the words of support being poured in on social media now, or ever, so efforts must be pushed to find ways to make contact in evacuation centers on the ground to fulfill that," he said.