Thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) are being housed in schools on the southern island following an upsurge in fighting between government forces and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in August.
According to the National Disaster Coordination Council (NDCC), of the more than 300,000 displaced, some 75,000 are staying in evacuation centres, mainly schools.
"Usually, evacuees go back to their homes after a few days or weeks and classes can start again," Estrella Babano, regional director of the Department of Education-Region X, said. "However, with this conflict now into its fifth month, we can no longer wait for a declaration of peace. Doing so would mean depriving the children of their basic right to education."
In the hardest-hit provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan, 44 schools were now being used as evacuation centres due to either the conflict or flooding earlier this year, rendering 16,145 children without a school, she said.
A new place to call home
Construction of the bunkhouses is being spearheaded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the NDCC.
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
|A young schoolboy at the Sambulawan elementary school in Mindanao. Thousands of children are not attending school regularly as a result of the conflict|
Ma. Theresa Alano, assistant secretary, liaison for DSWD - ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), emergency assistance, reported that 21 bunkhouse units to accommodate some 672 families in the municipalities of Datu Saudi, Barangay Pandadilang, Brgy Daplawan and Datu Piang and Mamasapano had already been completed.
By next week, Alano expects another 31 bunkhouse units (for close to 1,000 families) will be constructed in Munai, Tangkal, Poona Piagapo, Kulasihan, Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte and Kalambugan.
And while Alano concedes the numbers are not enough, she remains optimistic.
"Some local government units have been able to mobilise their own efforts to construct additional bunkhouses. Organisations like the Mindanao Emergency Response Group have also assisted in the construction of additional bunkhouses. The goal is really to build enough for all of the displaced."
"In the 2003 conflict, people were displaced for months at a time, allowing them to resume daily tasks in their new location," Lan Mercado, country director of Oxfam, said. "Now, with displacement every few weeks, starting any sort of normal daily activity like school ends up being disrupted."
Ma. Lourdes de Vera-Mateo, chief of education for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the agency was constructing temporary classrooms in 14 of the most densely populated evacuation centres in the municipalities of Datu Piang, Mamasapano, Talayan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Talitay and Datu Odin Sinsuat.
UNICEF was providing basic school materials and personal hygiene kits to more than 5,000 children and 400 teachers, as well as 10 library kits comprising 100 children's and reference books.
With the establishment of reading centres and supervised playgroups alongside formal classes, De Vera said more than 7,500 children up to the age of 15 were being served by UNICEF.
"Children [up to five] years old are more prone to discontinuing school altogether after a prolonged absence. But the largest and critical group are the elementary school children between the ages of six and 11 years, who number 2,149," she said.
"Within this age group, boys may be either forced into child labour to help augment their family's income or conscripted into the rebel movement," De Vera told IRIN. "The girls are expected to stay in school and in fact have a higher probability of finishing their education."
But with each room in the bunkhouse barely able to accommodate one family – on average five people - a rotation schedule is in place. Children use the classrooms until late afternoon, then IDPs move in to sleep.
Musib Uy-Tan, assistant mayor of Datu Piang, said they had constructed 18 bunkhouses for 576 families in addition to those constructed by the DSWD.
"Everyone is working together, doing what we can so kids can go back to school."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions