Fearful Refugees Find Hope with OB

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NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - On the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines, rebel attacks and subsequent military assaults have killed many civilians, soldiers and Muslim guerillas.

The fighting has displaced thousands of innocent civilians now living in cramped refugee camps.

Help has barely reached those living in critical areas, but despite the risk, Operation Blessing is there to provide food and other material needs and ways for these victims of war to rebuild their lives.

More than 100,000 Filipinos are still homeless following recent attacks against them by Islamic terrorists.

Innocent civilians, including children, were killed when the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) raided several Christian communities.

The violence came after the Supreme Court blocked a peace agreement with the Muslim rebels calling for an expanded autonomous Muslim region Mindanao.

This is one of the 39 houses that was burned by the MILF. That was two months ago, but up to this time, the villagers have not come back because 1.5 km. from here is a camp of the armed Islamic group.

Despite imminent danger, refugee Mary Jean Blaza says her husband and teenage son came back to this place to tend to their small piece of land, because farming is their only source of income.

"We lost everything because the MILF burned our house and stole our livestock," she said. "I don't understand why they did this to us when we did not do anything wrong to them. It's very difficult living in this refugee camp because most of the time we don't have food to feed our children."

And because the refugee camp is far from their village, Blaza's daughter, Venus, walks for 2 hours each day to get to school.

This is a propeller of an 81mm mortar and around here in this area they are just scattered everywhere.

On that morning, Venus' classes were suspended because an unexploded mortar shell was found only a few meters from her school. Military personnel buried it while waiting for bomb experts.

"I hope the MILF will stop attacking us," Venus said. "I am very sad because we are also human. I don't understand why they are making us suffer."

Carmela Jimenez still mourns the brutal death of her parents and brother who were mercilessly shot by the Muslim militants.

"My parents were both very old. And my mother cannot walk, and so they were not able to run when the MILF attacked our village and burned our houses," she said. "My husband does not know where to get money to buy food for us."

"We mostly rely on the different organizations to bring us food but they stopped coming because of the fighting near this place," she added.

That's why Blaza, Jimenez and other innocent victims are happy that Christian organizations like Operation Blessing have come to help them.

OB has partnered with the local government to hold regular feeding programs in refugee camps. They have also provided basic needs like mats and blankets.

The refugees were also taught alternative means of livelihood such as soy sauce making, and how to make vegetable noodles and candies. OB trained relief workers in affective trauma counseling.

Jesus Sacdalan is the governor of North Cotabato, the center of the conflict.

"For (the) people who want to go back to their place, they really need this counseling. And now we are happy that Operation Blessing came in," he said. "We can give them good livelihood by more pouring of investments in this problem and then we can really solve this problem."

And that is what thousands of innocent civilians caught in the conflict pray each day -- that the fighting will soon come to an end so they can move on with their lives.

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Reporter

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