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ICC Note: The Marawi siege carried out by Maute terrorists in the southern Philippines last May has made thousands of school children lose one year in their education. One year later, the local authorities and NGOs are working together to help the students catch up so they can move on with their education.

05/20/2018 Philippines (Channel News Asia) – Unlike other kids who learnt their ABCs from teachers or parents, Norhussein Benito was taught to read by soldiers.

The six-year-old boy with wide, wondering eyes spent last year not inside a kindergarten classroom as he was supposed to, but in an evacuation centre in the provincial capital of Marawi city in southern Philippines.

Benito and his family had to flee their home on May 23, 2017, after the Islamic State (IS)-allied Maute group attacked Marawi, embroiling it in a heart-breaking siege which lead to the deaths of 47 civilians and displaced around 360,000 people.

The conflict also prevented around 62,000 children like Benito from going to school.

One of whom, Abdillah Masid, will now never have the chance to do so. Masid, 15, was killed when a stray bullet struck him as he prayed in a mosque in Camp Ranao, a Philippine army base.

It is stories like this which make it more difficult for kids like Benito to go back to school. But it is also one of the reasons why they should, a year after the tragedy which changed Marawi.

The fighting in Marawi led to the cancellation of classes in 69 schools, according to the Philippine Department of Education. In the ensuing conflict, 20 schools were totally wiped out.

The damage to the schools went beyond the destruction of physical infrastructure, however.

The schools, which should have served as a safe sanctuary for children, also served as a refuge for the militants.

“According to the military, IS militants stayed here in the school. This is where they gathered as they went in and out of the roads,” said Noraida Arobinto, principal of Basak Malutlut elementary school.

“In fact, when I came back here, I saw their clothes.”

The members of the Maute group stayed in what is now known as Room 6, a classroom for 6th graders.

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For interviews with Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org