Longing for home this Christmas

WHEN most of the people would wish for new clothes, cosmetic products, and gadgets to receive on Christmas Day, Marawi evacuees, among them, Sitie Aina Dicampong, wish for nothing else but for things to return to how they used to be.

Before the Marawi siege, Sittie was an elementary and high school teacher who was finishing her graduate studies in Mindanao State University (MSU) Marawi. Her father had a retail business of clothes while her mother was employed at Marawi Cable. Things were peaceful and normal. On Christmas Days, although they do not celebrate Christmas, they would go out as a family, taking advantage of the fact that it’s a holiday and there’s no school and work for everyone.

On the last week of May 2017, Dhuhur, a religious ceremony for Muslims was going to be held in Marawi City. Because of this, different Muslim tribes from different parts of the country went to Marawi to participate. Sittie remembered how there weren’t tight checkpoints implemented since it was a religious activity anyway. People became complacent despite a lot of people coming in the city even causing traffic congestion.

On May 23, the peace in their city was disturbed. Sittie, who just arrived home from enrolment, heard loud explosions everywhere. People said it was ISIS. People said Christians were killed. But she didn’t know the truth then.

“One of the terrorists really talked to us and asked us to leave if we do not want to die because they are going to bomb Marawi City. Even my sibling, who was trapped in school, was released by the terrorist just so we can leave Marawi if we do not want to die. My mother wouldn’t want to leave. We were trapped on our rooftop then. She thought it would just last for one or two days so we waited,” Sittie shared.

After three days of being firm on not leaving their home, Sittie and her family, which was comprised of four adults and three little kids were escorted out of Marawi by members of the terrorist group.

“We are not going to hurt you because you are Muslims, we are told. After escorting us out of Ground Zero, we walked for two hours before we were able to get a ride to Malabang where my lola lives. Until now, my family is there. I went to Davao City after staying 2 days in my lola without knowing anyone just so we can have something to buy food with for the family. My father went back to Marawi and said it will take a long time before we can rebuild our life there back again,” she said.

She was able to work as a call center agent in Davao City for six months. Now, she plans to go back to Marawi to get her documents and to continue her master’s degree here in Davao City.

“I lost so much because of the siege. We lost our home, I lost my job, my parents lost their jobs. It’s difficult to start again. You will wake up in a different place not knowing anyone. I went through major adjustments for my family. But we will stand tall. In God’s Will, Marawi will be restored,” Sittie said.

Coming back to Marawi, she looks forward to be reunited with her father in time for the holiday season. “Sana lang mabalik sa dati,” before the interview ended Sittie said that is her wish now for Christmas.
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