MANILA, July 28 — For several weeks now, the gymnasium in Maria Cristina, Lanao del Norte has been home to hundreds of evacuees who fled the armed conflict in Marawi City.
The situation at the gymnasium is typical of the situation in most evacuation centers — cramped, humid and very little privacy for the people who have sought shelter there.
Despite these seemingly difficult conditions however, the evacuees — Muslims and Christians — have managed to co-exist peacefully and productively.
In the morning, Muslim and Christian women swept the surroundings and washed clothes, while their husbands fetched water and did carpentry work.
On the other hand, their children played and ran around the gymnasium, pretending that the place is a park where they could do anything as their imagination desired.
But it was during evenings of last month, when these Muslim and Christian families came together and showed that religion is not a barrier in forging true, lasting friendships.
As the Muslim evacuees broke their daily fast during the observance of Ramadan, they invited their Christian friends to partake in the special meal called “Iftar”.
These meals became a virtual feast, as banana leaves spread on the floor were filled with grilled fish, pansit and a variety of Muslim-inspired viands.
Men, women and children sat side by side as they shared the freshly cooked food, exchanged banter and talked about their plans for the future.
One could sense the pride and joy and among the evacuees who, regardless of their ethnic and religious differences, managed to come together and unite amid the challenges they faced.
Aliah (not her real name), a mother of three, believes that religion should not be a barrier in finding a solution to the Marawi crisis and achieving long-lasting peace in Mindanao.
“Ngayon po natin dapat ipakita ang ating pagkakaisa bilang taga Mindanao at bilang mga Pilipino. Magagawa po natin ito kung magtutulungan at magbibigayan lang po tayo, (Now is the time for us to show that we are united, as people of Mindanao and as Filipinos. We can achieve this if we help one another and learn how to give and take,)” Aliah said.