OUTREACH PROGRAM. Medical staff perform free circumcision services to residents of Lanao del Sur province on Thursday (Dec. 16, 2021). The beneficiaries were young and adult males whose families were displaced by the Marawi City siege in 2017. (Photo by Divina Suson)

MARAWI CITY – When Norania Bangcola, a solo parent, heard of a free circumcision program in this city, she and her 12-year-old son traveled almost 25 kilometers to avail of the service.

The mother and child were among those residents here who were displaced by the 2017 terrorist attack that devastated this city.

The boy, Abdul Basit, is now studying in a "toril" -- a Muslim facility where orphans and children of poor families study for free -- in Lumbayanague town in Lanao del Sur, where their family was initially transferred in the aftermath of the siege.

Bangcola, an "uztadza" or Arabic teacher in a "madrasah" (educational institution) in Barangay Rorogagus here, said Abdul Basit was not circumcised when he was younger because there used to be no "free services" offered in their area. She said she wants her son to be circumcised in order "to complete his being" as encouraged in the traditions of Islam.

"We are always dependent on free basic services," Bangcola said, as she narrated that after the siege, she and her other children were forced to live in a transitory shelter built by a religious non-government organization. When their family returned to Marawi last year, Abdul continued his studies in Lumbayanague.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, the Police Regional Office Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (PRO BAR), held an activity dubbed "Handog ng Kapulisang PRO BAR Para sa mga Toril" inside a toril compound in Barangay Cadayonan, this city. Free circumcision was among the services that beneficiaries were able to avail of.

"I am happy that the PNP (Philippine National Police) has this kind of initiative, at least it is free. My PHP500 monthly allowance is not even enough for our daily needs," Bangcola said.

Seated next to Abdul Basit was eight-year-old Mohamad Morsi who went alone to the venue of the free circumcision. He said he could not understand why he needed to be circumcised but because his mother told him to avail of the free service, he went to the toril all by himself.

"I am not afraid," Mohammad said in the Mëranaw dialect when asked if he was afraid of the surgical scissors.

Abdul and Mohammad were part of the around 200 teenagers and adults, who benefited from the free circumcision services.

Brig. Gen. Eden Ugale, regional director of PNP BAR, said the activity aimed to assist the uztads and "imams" in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur who are helping orphans currently studying in the city and other areas of the province.

"The police force in the Bangsamoro Region has big respect and we recognize our valiant Uztads, Imams, and other Muslim leaders. They have a greater role in molding the awareness and minds of our youths," he said.

Ugale said the orphans must be well taken care of because they are prone to recruitment by terrorists for violent extremism.

"We will continue with our partnership with the local government units for these children," he said in an interview.

During the free circumcision service, some 500 pairs of slippers and free medicines were also given away to the children. (PNA)