She is proof that every time a Meranaw young woman tells her story, she tells the story of all the Meranaw young people. She brings her,and their, maratabat to her audience – direct, elegant, proud.

Amerah Dipantar, licensed social worker, is from the coastal town of Picong, Lanao del Sur. When the war broke out, her community served as hosts to thousands of evacuees. “I am not an IDP. My family is intact, but my heart is broken for my fellow Meranaw,” she explained her reasons for being part of Duyog Marawi. At a young age of 23, she is Project Manager for Health and Wellness for Peace, a community-based capacity building project for Meranaw mothers to become health promoters and peace-educators to their families. In partnership with Development and Peace Canada and Mindanao

Health, Amerah enters even isolated areas considered high-risk by the military – organizing medical missions, engaging local women, and bringing outside help. “Health is a peace issue. Every time a Meranaw child dies due to lack of access to health services, the community gets angry. That anger fuels extremism,” she once shared.

She was awarded Best Performing Volunteer besting 148 other hardworking and dedicated young professionals. Her reward was to share her story at the National Social Action General Assembly hosted by the DSAC Palawan in Puerto Princesa last August, 2018. The first Meranaw young woman to speak as such an important gathering, Amerah bravely stood on the stage, and told her story on behalf of Marawi.

My name is Amerah Dipantar. I am a social worker. I belong to that MSU batch who finished our review during the start of the war, and took our exams while our families were inside evacuation centers.

Alhamdullilah, everyone in my batch passed the exams; many are now working with Duyog Marawi.

I am here to express my gratitude on behalf of the thousands of IDPs especially the young who found help, home, and hope because of the support that the Catholic Church has extended to us. More than the food packs, the hygiene kits, the houses, the WASH facilities, the livelihoods projects, and various peacebuilding activities, we are most thankful to you for believing in us – the young generation of Muslims in the Lanao Region – that we have the potential to be leaders in the rehabilitation and peacebuilding process in Marawi. Before the war, many people looked down on Meranaws as violent people because of the two Rs in our social reality – Rido and Rebels. But after the war, we were simply branded as “terrorists.” But not Duyog Marawi and the Caritas family. To them, we are friends. The Christians who work with us, and the NASSA staff who visit us – Maam Jeanie, Maam Lanie and Miss Jing among others. They look at us as friends. For a young Meranaw like me, to be considered a friend by bishops, priests, and professional Christians, is way beyond my imagination.

When the government was still focused on the battle and NGOs were still afraid to enter the territory and were responding to safe places like Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, the Catholic Church was our only refuge. The whole Caritas Family have contributed to the Duyog Marawi Rehabilitation and Peacebuilding Work roughly around 20 million pesos and helped us serve 35,000 IDP families. We are always grateful for that.

But what I am most grateful for is something that money cannot buy. I call it belonging. I feel at home now with the Christians. I belong to Duyog Marawi, a church-based institution, and therefore, I am not under investigation anymore. I am considered safe and cleared. I do not have to go through the difficult checkpoints, the military will not doubt that I am recruit of ISIS because I wear the brand of Duyog Marawi.

At the height of the war, we did not just lose lives and property, we also lost our identity. We are not the people of the lake anymore, all of us were suspects. But I, together with the rest of 178 volunteers who are the workforce of Marawi, are mobilized not just with the resources of the Catholics, but we are mobilized by their protection. They vouched for us. If the military would doubt our entry into a community, Bro. Rey calls them, and we are granted access right away, and because of that we can reach out to the neediest, the most underserved IDPs – those in red spot and high risk areas without being branded as potential ISIS recruiters.

My experience of the war and of Martial Law has been difficult, I have friends and relatives who were subjected to undignified inspections – asked to remove their hijab, prohibited from wearing black abaya, asked to explain if their last names are Maute or Salic. Martial Law is aimed to provide protection, but it did not protect us from losing our dignity. Duyog Marawi and the Catholic Church restored our dignity, and with it, our hope, that despite the lack of clear agenda and funds from the government, Marawi City will rise again.

Thank you. For everything, Alhamdulillah.