“We the people of Basilan will save Basilan,” she says confidently, when I first met her at the Clinica de Lamitan. A true blooded Basileña, Dr. Arlyn Jawad Jumao-as is on a mission of giving hope and help heal the children of war in Basilan, Philippines to be better individuals in the future through the foundation of Save the Children of War Basilan.
The disengagement of her young patients, their attachment to toy guns and inappropriate behaviors toward her was a trigger for Dr. Arlyn to take actions for these children beyond her call as their medical doctor.
“During one of our sorties, I remember this one child who was very withdrawn and, it seemed to me, angry at the world. He carried this wooden replica of a gun which not even his mother could take away. When I approached him, he spat at me and shouted, ‘Go away!’” narrates Dr. Arlyn.
Through her kindness and gentleness, the child eventually loosened up and welcomed her.
“Today, he calls me Mama Doc and visits my Clinic just to talk and have lollipop. He is now active in school and still believes that my lollipop is the best,” relates Dr. Arlyn.
A general practitioner in Lamitan City, Basilan, Dr. Arlyn, as fondly called by her patients, travels two hours daily from Zamboanga City to Lamitan, boarding a ferry to serve the people of Basilan. She provides medical care at the Clinica de Lamitan.
“Early in my career, I had the opportunity to have my practice in Cebu City, where I graduated, but I decided to practice in Basilan due to the dearth of doctors here,” relates Dr. Arlyn.
Although living outside of Lamitan City, the doctor calls herself a Basileña, who due to the demise of her father, her family had to leave for Cebu City where she spent her childhood.
“Basilan has always been my home. You could say that I have been here all my life,” says Dr. Arlyn.
“I have a very complex relationship with Basilan. But it is overshadowed by the love I have for its people. I understand the daily hardships the people struggle with. I have seen the wounds inflicted by sea urchins on the hands of a mother struggling to feed her children. I have felt the sorrow of a mother who lost a child to violence. That is why I endeavor to help the people as much as I can,” she adds.
The birth of Save Children of War (Basilan) Association, Inc.
“In my years of practice, I noticed some very peculiar traits among some of my child-patients. They seem to me to act suspicious of strangers, even with me, their doctor. Some of them would be carrying gun replicas which they are very loath to part with. Some would even exhibit objectionable acts, like spitting or shouting,” shares Dr. Arlyn, who is a mother of three herself.
This observation was shared to her colleague in psychiatry, who confirmed her suspicions that these children exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Though the parents and people of Basilan saw this situation as the norm and nobody seems to be too concern about it, Dr. Arlyn, took it to her heart and worried about these young generation.
“The plight of the children gave me pause. I wondered, what future do these children have? Will their disorder turn them into men of conflict or conflicted men? And, if these children are our future, would it mean that the cycle of violence continues?” says Dr. Arlyn.
“I looked back at our childhood, we too were once children of war, and thought that for the grace of God, go I,” adds Dr. Arlyn.
With the help of her philanthropic friends, the initiative to help the children of war in Basilan was organized.
The conflict in Basilan Province has been on and off for the past decades. It is why most of the residents of this war-torn province are already immune to the effect of the war. Basilan is known as the haven of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group.
Last December 2016 alone, International Committee of the Red Cross reported 7,000 people have been displaced for more than a month due to the clashes between government security forces and armed groups in Basilan.
Supporters and partners
“My family is very, very supportive of my projects. They are my primary support group- both industrially and morally.”
A mother of three, Dr. Arlyn, despite her busy schedule finds time to spend evenings with her children, Francis Renzo, 20; Lysander Brian, 14; and Anne Therese, 10 along with her husband, Abner. Her husband is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and was a former Army officer who resigned to become a farmer.
“Since our house is in Zamboanga City, I take the daily slow boat to and from Lamitan City so I can spend my evenings with them. I also make it a point to spend Sundays with my family for some quality bonding time,” relates Dr. Arlyn.
“Of course, technology also makes it easier to communicate with them.”
Besides the support of her family, Lamitan Jaycees, the 4th Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army and the Furigay Colleges, Inc. are the major partners of Save the Children of War Basilan.
Soldiers gladly help in assembling scooters to be distributed to the beneficiaries of Save the Children of War Basilan.
“Our Association gladly accepts all the help we can get. We are heavily indebted to private professionals and other philanthropic institutions and organizations. Most of our private donors dislike having their names mentioned.”
Save the Children of War (Basilan) Programs
Since its conception in 2014, Save the Children of War – Basilan, have benefitted more than 3,600 children from different municipalities and cities of Basilan. Among the projects that the group conducts are to address the psychological, physical and spiritual trauma of the children.
“We extend psychological treatment, through our volunteer psychiatrists and psychologists, who specialize in war and other types of trauma, to enable the children to reclaim their lost childhood and to offer them hope for the future,” adds Dr. Arlyn.
Annually, the foundation identifies areas where the most recent violent incident happened, followed by identification of target beneficiaries then psychosocial processing of the children beneficiaries done by psychologists and social workers.
Aware of the sensitivity of some victims, even ordinary volunteers and soldiers were trained to handle children in such situation.
After going through the mentioned processes, the organization treats the children with a formal ceremony, a stage show decrying violence. In its first year, the foundation celebrated “A Festival of Peace: Healing the Past, Celebrating the Present, Saving the Future.” It was a day of merriment for the children and their families, the activities included medical mission, distribution of toys and fun and games for the children.
The same concept is repeated yearly with slight variation. During its fourth activity, in cooperation with Maharlika Charity Foundation, Inc., Dr. Arlyn was able to identify 143 children who were suffering from cleft lips and palates, and these children underwent free surgery through the assistance of the surgeons from the MCFI.
“Aside from these major activities, we have also launched several smaller activities such as several feeding programs, circumcisions and medical services, donations of sports equipment and other minor activities designed to uplift the lives and milieu of the children. We have also had the chance of turning a former battlefield into a playground for children,” shares Dr. Arlyn.
She added, “We also assist the child-beneficiaries with the maintenance of their health through free consultations and medicines and hospitalization assistance (provided by donors). We also encourage them in their education by providing educational materials, such as bags, books, notebooks and others.”
Last year’s celebration was Festival of Love and Peace, where 500 pyschologically pre-assessed children from the municipalities of Tipo-Tipo, Al-barka and Ungkaya Pukan joined and had fun at the event, receiving toys, food, and, their most wished bicycles.
On the conflict in Basilan
Although Dr. Arlyn is short of information about the duration of the war in Basilan, she is sure about the inevitable negative effects of these conflicts.
“I cannot tell you the exact number of years that armed conflict has troubled Basilan. However, I can say that I have known no other state of affairs here but armed conflict or the portent of one. To be sure, armed conflict occurs only in the hinterlands of the province, but the chill is felt everywhere,” narrates Dr. Arlyn.
She adds: “The armed conflicts that bedevil Basilan are mostly related to the existence of anti-establishment groups who, for one reason or another, think that taking up arms is the best means of showing their sentiments.”
She believes that lack of resources and opportunities in the province is the root of the never-ending conflict.
“However, the root of it all, if you dig far enough, is usually the lack of resources and opportunities coupled with the tendency of the young to emulate their childhood “heroes”. Most of the armed men and armed groups of Basilan, as far as I know, are related to each other by blood, by affinity, or by shared experiences. Naturally, the children gravitate to and idolize these armed individuals they see almost every day.”
According to Wikipedia, the Homestead Program of the government in 1903 -1973 is among the root-causes of the Moro conflict. The Homestead program is a project of the “Philippine government,” encouraging the migration of landless Christians from other parts of the country to Mindanao. There was no land titling system by the natives of Mindanao at that time, and the Christian settlers exploited the situation. Tensions between Moros and Christians were caused by disputes about land ownership and disenfranchisement of Muslims.