Grace Under Fire: Bai Puti Helps Fellow IDPs Rebuild Their Lives

Date Publish: 
Philippines / Asia

Amidst the sound of exploding bombs and gun fire, Bai Puti Iskak
and her family ran for their lives on a pitch black night of May
2009 in Kateman, a rural community in Western Mindanao.

"The early mortar shelling began to hit and destroy community
facilities and houses," says Bai Puti, prompting her family and
neighbors to flee their homes.

"We only managed to bring our clothes, leaving our working
animals and other important things behind. Some neighbors were
lucky to bring poultry and livestock with them," Bai Puti recalls.
"Along the way, a pregnant woman gave birth."

Among more than five hundred families, Bai Puti's family walked
for an hour in search of temporary sanctuary.

Leaving behind all of her family's savings and investments
— important belongings, house, farm and farm animals —
Bai Puti, together with her husband and eleven children, arrived at
the Bagan Elementary School Evacuation Center. 

To resemble a home, Bai Puti, her family and neighbors built
temporary houses made of nipa and lumber provided through the
partnership of IOM and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development
Office (MSWDO). IOM gave the displaced families cooking equipment,
hygiene and medical kits, blankets, and other non-food items.

According to Jasper Llanderal, IOM Mindanao Programme
Coordinator, the frequent and unpredictable displacements have
prompted local governments to prepare dedicated spaces in public
schools, municipal halls, and other government facilities to serve
as evacuation centers. When tensions arise, displaced families are
instructed to flee to the nearest centers.

IOM also installed bathrooms and hand pumps in evacuation
centers like the Bagan Elementary School Evacuation Center to
accommodate evacuees' health and hygienic needs. Children can also
play and relax while learning in child-friendly spaces thanks to
Community Family Services International and the United Nations
Children's Fund.

"Life in the evacuation center is not easy," Bai Puti admits.
But she and the Kateman community set their worries aside,
realizing that there is hope if they all worked together in
rebuilding their lives.

Bai Puti focuses on helping out with the activities in the
evacuation center, coordinating with IOM and other humanitarian
agencies that assist fellow internally displaced persons (IDPs).
"She encourages IDPs to do alternative livelihood activities while
in the evacuation center, and to make use of IOM's livelihood
support of seeds and tools. She initiated backyard gardening," an
IOM field staff attests.

Bai Puti is thankful for the help she and her family
received.  It made life at the centre bearable. IOM's
self-sustenance activities for IDPs "make us feel uplifted and
empowered for not always having to depend on external support,"
says Bai Puti.

For her hard work, the displaced community chose Bai Puti to
lead in organizing the activities in the evacuation center. "Since
I became a camp coordinator," she says, "I have been privileged to
help affected families."

Together with the elders, she mediates disputes, supports those
who need counseling, and relays information about the IDPs to
humanitarian organizations offering help. "When some families had
nothing to eat," a neighbor of hers remembers, "Bai Puti personally
bought a sack of rice and distributed it among them."

Today, many families have been able to return to their
homes.  Some families still remain in evacuation centers
around Maguindanao and Cotabato, provinces in Mindanao, because
their homelands are still not cleared of local disputes.

Security remains unstable and more displacement can occur
anytime. But people who help their own distressed community as they
experience the same hardships are remarkable. Bai Puti is an
inspiration to many, especially to the women in her community.

Bai Puti Iskak continues to reside in the evacuation center,
helping displaced families. She has recently welcomed a healthy

IOM's Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) and
Protection Support to Vulnerable Families in Conflict Affected
Areas in Central Mindanao Programme attends to the immediate needs
of vulnerable families affected by Central Mindanao's complex
conflict situation.

IOM also supports the sustainable return of IDPs by
repairing basic facilities in communities with high return and
monitoring the progress of families who have returned home. In
addition, IOM provides blankets, cooking tools, water containers,
and other basic non-food items.

Due to the unstable security in Maguindanao, IOM assists
communities prone to displacement by coming up with ways that can
help them prepare better in case tensions arise. The preparations
include identifying exit strategies, establishing camp committees
on sites for relocation or return, and raising awareness on
protection issues.

Bai Puti Iskak encourages other displaced families to set up backyard gardens which make use of IOM’s livelihood support of seeds and tools. Bai Puti, her family and neighbors fled their homes in Kateman, a rural community in Western Mindanao in May 2009 due to conflict. © IOM 2010