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Volunteers in the Philippines demonstrate the spirit of volunteering in the face of extremism

By Arlene Mahinay


Volunteers from the Philippines have mobilised to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Marawi city, where conflict has erupted between government forces and ISIS-affiliated groups. 

Arlene Mahinay, VSO's head of programmes in the Philippines describes the situation.

Evacuation centre for internally displaced families from Marawi, where VSO returned volunteers delivered relief goods

Evacuation centre for internally displaced families from Marawi.

200,000 people displaced

On 23 May, militants aligned to Islamic State launched a ‘lightning strike’ on Marawi City, in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. Fierce fighting broke out as government forces battled to reclaim the city and the 200,000 people who live in Marawi found themselves caught in an impossible situation.

Fearing for their lives families fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs, not knowing when they might be able to return to their homes.

VSO’s partner, Maradeca – a local NGO based in Marawi -- was just one casualty of the spiralling violence.

Staff spent a night holed up in their office before being able to leave, with nothing but the belongings they had with them.

Six weeks on, fighting is still ongoing.

Almost all inhabitants have now left the city and are unable to return. They have no idea how long the violence will continue.

Volunteers rally together

VSO volunteers from the Philippines, who have volunteered to support communities around the world, were some of the first to respond to the crisis emerging on their own doorstep.

VSO volunteers supporting people of Marawi Marlo S. Nacua.

VSO volunteers and local partner Maradeca are helping coordinate the humanitarian response for the people of Marawi.

Through social media, they came together to pool personal funds in order to purchase urgently needed supplies.

Working together with local partner Maradeca, they have distributed clothes, food and water, sleeping mats and other essential items.

truck near Marawi Marlo S. Nacua.

Delivering much-needed aid

This impressive community effort has been coordinated by Elizabeth Santillan, a VSO volunteer who quickly arranged to visit the affected people in person to help deliver aid.

Some of the first beneficiaries of the goods collected by the group were the staff of VSO’s partner Maradeca. The volunteers felt that this was essential in order for them to then be in a position to support their communities.

Spirit of volunteering 

Elizabeth acknowledges the strength of the VSO volunteer network, with those who were unable to join in-person demonstrating their support online. Filipino volunteers currently on placement in Asia and Africa have been extending financial and moral support, and international volunteers who had previously been based in the Philippines have also pledged to help.

It is a testament to the volunteer network that they were willing and able to respond so soon after the crisis began.

Working in and around the area of Marawi continues to be extremely dangerous – over 300 people have already lost their lives in the fighting.

Woman leaving Marawi

Many people from Marawi left the city with nothing other than what they could carry.

Volunteers listened to guidance from VSO in terms of security and logistical considerations to ensure that their support would meet the needs of communities without jeopardising safety. Taking this advice on board and going on to successfully deliver aid has resulted in an inspirational movement that shows no signs of slowing down.

VSO is very proud of our former volunteers who are demonstrating the true spirit of volunteering.

Arlene Mahinay is head of programmes at VSO Philippines.

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