Lanao del Norte – As a child, Normilah learned about war. She and her family had to evacuate their home on three separate occasions, after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked their village in Mindanao, Philippines. When mortar shells were dropped on her village for the first time in 2000, she was only nine years old.
In 2003, Normilah faced conflict again. Ongoing fighting between the MILF and government forces forced her to flee from her village for a second time. She had to leave her school and friends in order to finish her education in a safer town.
Her third experience with war was in 2007. Once again, her family had to abandon everything and flee the village.
After the wars, Normilah encountered many challenges as she recovered from trauma. She experienced hunger, thirst, and fatigue, but she believes the worst result of the violence was the discrimination she received from other Muslims in the evacuation areas. Many blamed Muslims for the actions of MILF, and as a result, Normilah did not want to return to her village.
In 2015, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) began working with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Normilah’s community. She began participating in JRS activities, fighting for peace and promoting livelihoods opportunities. Normilah even became a member of the JRS Women’s Peace Advocacy group, which includes both the Moro people, who are Muslim, and non-Moro women. The advocates strive to be peace builders in their respective communities, and Normilah uses the example of her struggles to promote reconciliation in her community. Today, Normilah manages the women’s cooperative store and community garden in her village.