The Ebrahims: A Moro family living in generations of war
The all-out offensive launched against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters now enters its twenty-fourth day – an operation which the military intended to last only three days.
Meanwhile, the Ebrahim family is just one of about 25,000 families that had to leave their homes in search of safety.
Today, Maguindanao houses more than 120,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) or “bakwits” from at least 15 municipalities. They are now forced to live in schools, basketball courts, tents; forced to rely on relief assistance as they leave their livelihoods behind, forced to move at a moment’s notice as soon as another firefight starts.
To the bakwits, it doesn’t matter what the conflict is called. To them, it all feels the same.
It feels like war.
A family of evacuees
In a makeshift shelter in Talayan, Maguindanao, Norhayna Ebrahim carried her youngest son in her arms, nursing him to sleep. His hands were clenched into small fists, his mouth curved into a slight smile.
Norhayna Ebrahim has been a bakwit for as long as she can remember. This time, she has just given birth, but she would rather run away with her son than rest in the middle of a firefight.
She spoke of how she wanted a different life for her son, Norben.
Barely a month old and Norben is already moving from one place to another as his family left their home in Guindulungan, also in Maguindano. He sleeps in a small hammock as they wait for the firefight to end.
“He needs me,” Norhayna said as she watched her son sleep.
Among the Ebrahims, Norben is the youngest. He is but one of about 24,000 bakwits below six years old.
Decades of conflict
The Ebrahims’ matriarch, Nabai, has lived in Guindulungan for as long as she could remember. She does not know her age, nor does she know how many times she’s had to evacuate.
But she knows it was also in Guindulungan where she gave birth to her daughter Noriya. She also remembers how her daughter, then barely eight years old, already knew what to carry with her out of the house as soon as a firefight starts.
Their family is no stranger to conflict. They are tired of running for safety, but they have long accepted that running away from conflict is a part of calling Guindulungan home. With this acceptance came a decision – buying a small motorized wagon which can carry a bed frame, a sala set, plastic drawers, their lives.
Noriya spent all her years in Guindulangan. Here, she also gave birth and raised her daughter Norhayna who, at eighteen, went abroad to work in Qatar.
After three years of working away from home, Norhayna decided to come back.
“Shortly after I came home from Qatar, I was thinking if I should go work abroad again,” she said. “But then I met my husband, and then I gave birth. Going abroad was suddenly not an option. I wanted to raise my family here. I want to be here with my son.”
Life was good, she says, until the firefighting began again.
From their hometown in Guindulungan, she evacuated to a nearby town in Talayan with sixteen of her relatives.
“I was lucky I’ve already given birth when the firefight began. I see pregnant women here in the evacuation sites every once in a while.”
Figures indicate that there may be more than 5,000 pregnant women in evacuation sites all over Maguindanao, and this number may rise as the conflict continues to spread to other towns.
The life they want
Five families in all, the Ebrahims have built for themselves five temporary living quarters which shared thin wooden walls.
In the space occupied by Norhayna’s family of three, one can find the queen size bed given to her on the day of her marriage, its mattress set on the floor. There were also two wooden chairs from their old house, and a plastic drawer for their clothes.
“I wish we could come home soon,” Norhayna said. “This is not the life I wanted for Norben, he’s not supposed to be out here. I thought we could finally live in peace and then this happens again and I…” She then paused as she found the words.
“This is not the life I want for my son.”