Mona Ali still remembers that day as if it were yesterday. It happened a year ago. It was a Tuesday. He remembers it so well. He wasn’t there. He was in Cagayan de Oro, processing his passport application and looking forward to perform the Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. An urgent call from his family gripped his heart. Something was happening in Marawi City. Gunfire. Basak Malutlut. ISIS. Those words frightened him.

“Don’t come home”, they said. Too risky. But Mona Ali was not the kind of father who leaves his family in danger. His thirteen children and his wife needed him. He did not think twice. He went home as fast as he could. He reached as far as the checkpoints. It was already dark. The military did not allow him to enter the city. He could hear gunshots.

Mona Ali did what any Meranaw father would do. He bargained. He begged. He threatened. When he ran out of options, he waited. The night got longer as he thought of his family – anxious, worried and afraid. The next morning, he was allowed to enter with strict instructions. His family could not be happier when they were reunited. They were able to escape unharmed. But that was just the beginning of their prolonged ordeal. For others, that day was called the start of the Marawi Siege; for Mona Ali, it was the day he lost everything he owned.

Mona Ali Modi is a 69-year-old father. He is an ustad, a teacher of Islam, and used to be an Imam at their masjid in Daguduban, Paling, and Marawi City. He was a businessman. He supported his family by selling electrical supplies in Banggolo at the heart of the city. He started his business with three hundred thousand pesos – hard-earned life savings.

All of that are gone now: his house, his business, and his masjid. He does not have a home anymore; the place in which he raised his family is now simply called Ground Zero. The war broke, and their family business was bombed into a pile of debris as it was at the heart of the city which are now totally wrecked.

Like the rest of the 89,000 affected families who lived in evacuation centers and houses of relatives, Mona Ali’s family survived by being dependent on help from the government and humanitarian organizations. Some of his children looked for work in faraway places. His eyes were filled with tears, and his voice cracked while talking about his beloved children. He misses them, but he couldn’t feed them all. The DSWD relief packs are meant for a family of six. They came regularly at first, but after several months, the relief packs became scarce.

And like many Meranaw fathers, he felt a loss of pride and dignity. Being dependent on others to feed his family was not acceptable to Mona Ali. It was not acceptable to all Meranaws. Their Maratabat – their sense of pride and honor– was at stake.

He prayed to Allah that he could start his business again. Enough of the canned goods and rice packs. But it became obvious to him that starting a new business was very difficult. He wanted to start a bakery.

“No one had money to lend to me. All of my clan were also affected. They lost everything.” He looked back at his ordeal, asking relatives and friends for help. They turned him down. But those misfortunes did not make Mona Ali give up, instead, it made him stronger and more patient. He knew Allah would hear his prayers. Every day, it was his dua – his prayer of petition. “Allah, give me a chance to start again.”

This is the prayer of almost all Meranaws. Queenie Pacalundo of the Sowara O Miyagoyag (Voice of the IDPs) said that, “All we need is money for us to start our business. We are Meranaws. We don’t need the government’s big plans for Dubai-like city. We don’t need big buildings, or water parks, or highways. All we need is capital. We will rebuild our lives.”

In a survey conducted by the members of the Bangon Marawi CSO Platform last November, Livelihoods Assistance was the third-highest priority of the IDPs, next only to the lifting of Martial Law and passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “I was confident that Allah would hear my prayers,” Mona Ali said. He was right. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), in partnership with Duyog Marawi, considered him one the qualified recipients for a livelihoods support which aims to provide capital to at least 4920 families from Ground Zero. But first, he had to complete a Business Management Training. “…gya e kapiya gya a kaptraininga niyo rekami ka oman isa na makukwenta niyan so khalaba niyan na mako-control iyan so expenses iyan ko pamilya niya.

(…this training you are conducting is advantageous to us because everyone of us computed the profit he can earn and their expenses to their families.)

“…doon sa Business Management Training, ang purpose nito ay para matulungan ang mga benificiaries natin na makagawa sila ng plano ayun sa negosyo na gusto nilang gawin.” (…the purpose of the Business Management Training is to help our beneficiaries to make a plan based on the business they want to do.) Said Mr. Errol, Deputy Coordinator of Catholic Relief Services Iligan Sub-office. The CRS-Duyog Marawi Partnership includes a Conditional Cash Grant worth 250 dollars to the qualified beneficiaries as a support for the restoration of their livelihood. However, before they can receive it, they have to undergo and complete a four-day Business Management Training. This training aims to enable them to learn making a business plan. It is important to teach them before giving them such Conditional Cash Grant.

“…sinisiguro natin na natutulungan at nabibigyan natin ng guide yung mga beneficiary natin kasi kung ibibigay natin basta-basta yan, hindi natin alam kung ano yung mas tama or tama ba yung pagkagamit nila ng pera…” (…we are ensuring that we can help and guide our beneficiaries because if we are just going to give the cash to them right away, we won’t know if they could use the money well…) Mr. Errol said.

Mona Ali now found a reason to smile. Never in his life that he thought that Christians would be the one to give him hope. He was devastated as his home and business turned into ashes, but they have given him a reason to start again. He realized that the Marawi Siege was not a reason to lose hope but an opportunity to strengthen his faith.

Now, he works hard as he looks forward to reunite with his family that were separated by the war. They now become his greatest inspiration to work hard as he also looks forward to perform Hajj in the future. He wasn’t able to travel last year, but he took a different Hajj, an interior journey where he found his strength and solidified his faith in Allah.

“We shall rise again. We will be together again. Allah is merciful.”

JG Umpar is volunteer of Duyog Marawi and is a member of DALIT, or the Duyog Marawi Academy for Young Literary Writers for Peace. She also is part of the BMT (Business ManagementTraining) Team.

(Written by: JG Umpar)