Catholic Relief Services brought many emergency supplies to an evacuation center after fighting broke out between rebels and Philippine military forces last spring.
But among the water purification tablets, tarp, cooking pot and various personal hygiene items CRS provided, there was one simple thing that Saima Kasim appreciated most—towels.
"I only took one towel with me when we ran, and I've never, ever thought about not being able to change towels when I needed to," she says. "But with only one towel, it was never dry. It got moldy, and that's all I had to dry my son, Jordan."
The most recent round of fighting in Southern Mindanao brought other major disruption to Saima and so many others. She had been preparing to travel abroad for work.
"I was getting ready fly from Manila to work abroad as a domestic helper in Lahore, Pakistan, when the fighting started." Instead, she flew home, certain that she would soon be back on her way. Her neighborhood has always been relatively safe.
"I was making coconut oil and thinking of when I might book a new flight to Lahore," she says. "Then my in-laws came running and said we had to leave right away. I had 20 minutes to gather my things. We ran. And we heard sounds of fighting get closer as we did.
Throughout this camp in Upper Sampao, you hear similar stories of plans interrupted, upended and delayed. Families wait with no indication of when their waiting will end. They sit in the shadows of the spotlights of international attention that shine on other refugees crises around the world, hoping for word on when it will be safe to go home and start rebuilding.
Many make plans for their return—for planting rice, for repairing walls pockmarked by shells, for scraping out a collapsed roof from still-standing walls. Some simply think about getting a first glimpse of home, with their plans dependent on what they will find.
When the violence broke out, CRS Philippines—which has ongoing work in Maguindanao province—moved quickly to bring help to hundreds of families in the Upper Sampao mango grove and other evacuation sites.
CRS has adjusted our plans to deal with the longer duration. Working alongside our partner Kadtuntaya Foundation Inc., and with CRS private funds, teams have built latrines and water stations in the camp.
Meanwhile, each new sound of shelling or rumor of rebel retreats raises and lowers hope through the long days, just as it does among the millions displaced in countries far away from the southern Philippines. In so many of these places, CRS is present, helping the most vulnerable people caught between a violent present and their hope for the moment they can begin to plan again.
In such places, the small things can make all the difference. "Now I know what it is like to live with one towel for many people—and I feel happy each time I can hang two washed towels to dry, and still have four more ready to use," Saima says.