Indian Catholic News

Mindanao conflict moves Muslim to work with Christians

Participation of locals in humanitarian responses has become integral in Church's work to help conflict-affected communities.

 
Hidaya Macapaar Sultan, a 22-year-old Muslim humanitarian worker, speaks before a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders on March 12 about plans to help people affected by armed conflict in Mindanao. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Davao city: 

Her days at university exposed her to the religions and cultures of people different from hers, but Hidaya Macaapar Sultan, a 22-year-old Muslim, said it was war that moved her to work with people of other faiths.

In 2017, when a group of extremist gunmen attacked the city of Marawi causing the displacement of about half a million people, Sultan, or Mida to her friends, felt the need "to respond to the situation."

It was the conflict, which affected family and friends, which aroused her to enter into a dialogue and collaborate with faith-based groups in helping the people.

More than a year after the war, Mida, a registered social worker, is now area coordinator for Duyog Marawi, a recovery project initiated by the Catholic Church in the war-torn city.

"Now that we are on the stage of development work, we need to strengthen our collaboration with other church groups," she told ucanews.com in an interview.

She said her decision to work with a Catholic-led organization has become "life-changing" and has introduced her to the "role of faith" in disaster response.

"I have seen how people suffer because of the war, but I’ve also witnessed how lives were saved because different religions worked together," she said.

Role of local people

As of February this year, about 11,400 people, including an estimated 300 Christian families, remain in temporary shelters with no houses to go back to in Marawi.

Mida's organization, Duyog Marawi, has already initiated programs for the rehabilitation of conflict-stricken areas in partnership with Muslim communities.

It has at least 140 volunteers and 40 regular staff members, the majority of whom are young Muslims who were affected by the 2017 crisis.

Rey Barnido, executive director of Duyog Marawi, said the involvement of young Muslims has become an integral part of "intervention and humanitarian response."

"If it were not for the local players, especially our Muslim staff and volunteers, our programs would have been harder to implement," he said.

He said the local people have the knowledge of the "social and cultural landscape" that help the organization determine what will work for the community.

"Because our staff and volunteers are also victims of the crisis, they easily connect and communicate with the people," he added.

Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action secretariat of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said the participation of local people in humanitarian responses has become "integral in the shift from giving relief to ending the needs."

The priest said the sustained presence of faith-based groups and local aid workers in disaster-affected areas "allows development programs to continue and progress" even after other aid groups leave the communities.

Interfaith collaboration

Her faith in God has motivated Mida to help people. "It was Islam that encouraged me to do humanitarian work," she said.

She said faith should not hinder people of different religions from working together. "My faith also taught me not to look into a person’s religious belief, gender, political affiliation, or social status before helping," she said.

Minnie Ann Mata-Calub, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said the act of charity is common to all religions as a doctrinal mandate.

"We’ve already progressed in terms of interreligious dialogue and collaboration, especially during crises," she said.

Mata-Calub said the work of church people is not just about charity "but a responsibility to facilitate better understanding of development ... based on values, justice, and as basic human rights."

Bishop Noel Pantoja, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, said the involvement of faith-based groups in humanitarian work is a "duty that brings us closer to God."

He said through humanitarian and development work, church people perform "acts of mercy and compassion to ensure the care for all creations."

Mida and the other Muslim staff and volunteers of Duyog Marawi will soon take over the responsibilities in managing all the programs of the organization.

The things they have learned in many dialogues with other faith-based organizations will serve as their foundation in delivering services to their people.

Source: UCAN

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