What started out as a plan of a few soon became a concrete act of selfless giving by many.

In a country reeling from the impact of stability-threatening issues ranging from the controversial PDAF to unresolved crimes, territorial disputes and even floods and typhoons, another trouble of similar intensity was never on our wish list. Unfortunately, it did happen.

Like the rest of Mindanao and the country, constituents of MSU-IIT woke up to disturbing news of another war brewing in the South on September 9. Though it has its fair share of conflict, Zamboanga City this time has been heavily affected. Initial reactions of concern and worry soon tripled as heavy fighting reached three weeks. Problems on food scarcity especially for the thousands of evacuees cropped up. Many answered to the call for help, including MSU-IIT students, most notably those coming from the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS).

“It is our way of saying that we are there for Zamboanga and that they (Zamboangueños) are not alone,” shared Prof. Sittie Noffaisah B. Pasandalan, Assistant Dean of CASS. She was present when a group of students initially convened to discuss the idea of extending help to those affected in the Zamboanga City crisis. She was able to contact Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., Assistant to the President for Social Development of Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU) and Teresa Romelyn Fabugais, Director for ADZU’s Center for Leadership & Governance.

MSU-IIT and AdZU are actually part of a circle of partners in the Mindanao Bridging Leaders Program under the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). Initial contact with them revealed that the evacuees’ need for food was urgent especially since transporting goods into the city was extremely difficult. This prompted the students to decide on the mode of help they intend to carry out.

“[There was] no mobility, no [way] to transport. [The] fastest way was to donate cash,”said Lynrose Genon, Mayor of the AB English Organization (ABEO). Incidentally, the idea to help Zamboanga was especially close to her heart.

“I know the feeling, the [sounds] of gunshots…running [for safety].” Genon was one of those who experienced the 818 (Augusut, 18, 2008) MILF attack in her hometown, Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte. “I had classmates who were hostaged. Our school was burned.”

When asked about the significance of helping Zamboangueños, she said, “we made them feel that they are not alone because when you are in that situation, the only thing that comforts you is the thought that you are not alone.”

Floraime Pantaleta, a third-year AB English student, was glad that she was invited to attend the meeting and for the opportunity to extend help to her kababayans. “I know people there. I have relatives and friends. They woke up to sounds of gunshots. They [however] said that people will die not from gunshots but from hunger. It was imperative to help evacuees.”

At first she was dismayed for the lack of concern some people have toward the issue, but was glad that concrete steps were initiated by students.

“It was an act of goodwill. We had the choice and the chance to help and we did,” Pantaleta said.

The initial amount donated to help the Zamboanga City evacuees amounted to P11,200.00 and was deposited through the AdZU BPI account on September 23. Prof. Pasandalan disclosed that this was actually donations of both faculty and students, many of whom come from CASS.

Pantaleta is positive that the money will go to those who really need it—the evacuees.

In a thank you note to the faculty and students  of MSU-IIT posted by Fr. Wilfredo M. Samson, OIC,President of AdZU, on September 23, he wrote:

“Thank you very much for your quick response to our plea for help. As of this moment, there are more than 90,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Zamboanga City. Most of them are children, young people and old. Unfortunately, the government needs help to feed them and there are areas that need immediate attention. These are the areas that Ateneo is extending your support. Your donation will definitely help our evacuees. Rest assured that your donation will go where the support is most needed.”

With the siege between the military forces and the Nur Misuari-led faction of the MNLF in Zamboanga City now over, and clearing operations are done, many are optimistic that the resilient spirit of Zamboangueños fueled by the generosity and comfort of others will help them rise from the destruction brought by war. OC-OPI

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