War child: How football changed the life of Sharifa Mae Salip Jamuh
By Rick Olivares
The football Sharifa Mae Salip Jamuh is holding up is the One World Futbol, the ultra-durable ball that will work anywhere in the world even in the roughest of landscapes.
It says a lot not only about the power of the game of football but also the young girl’s life.
Salip Jamuh is from Panglima Estino in Sulu. Years ago, if one described Sulu as “the Wild West” was a massive understatement. More appropriately, it was one of the most dangerous places on earth. Gunfire, explosions, the screams of the despondent, the injured and the dying were so common that Sharifa became inured to the sounds. “That kind of life was normal for us,” the 16-year old lass succinctly put.
It was so normal that Sharifa or her playmates never ducked for cover. Instead, they ran towards the sounds of battle. “There was a certain thrill to the danger,” she confessed.
Eventually, the danger ratcheted up by several levels.
The 46-year old Moro Insurgency isn’t simply a late 20th century conflict from what has been an eons-old war between Christians and Muslims. In fact, in Mindanao, it also gets more personal as the blood feuds between rival clans or tribes of Muslim gets even more personal.
Lt. Ryan Gandeza, a Philippine Marine assigned to the area who later became a guardian for Sharifa, certified that in Mindanao one fights several fronts. “You have the MNLF, the MILF, Abu Sayyaf, and even rogue elements of the aforementioned,” clarified the soldier.
Salip Jamuh’s life changed when she found herself actively participating in a game of football. When Gandeza allowed her to join, he looked to the girl’s parents if there was any objection.
The boys didn’t go easy on Sharifa. She was tackled and knocked around some. But pretty soon it became evident that the girl with the hajib was the best player on the pitch. And the soldiers of the 3rd Marine Battalion based at the Domingo Deluana Barracks in Barangay Sanga Sanga in Bongao, Sulu took notice of Salip Jamuh’s talent that they – for all their meager pay -- all chipped in for her high school education at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga.
Zamboanga was an eye opener for someone whose only world was the one immediately within her vicinity. “Ang daming tao,” she marveled. “Ang dami ko nakikita. Ibang experience talaga.”
If “Asia’s Latin City” – as Zamboanga is known by – was a whole new world for Salip Jamuh, Manila was like being in another planet.
In the nation’s capital as a Football for Peace scholar to the University of Santo Tomas where she now plays for its women’s football team, Sharifa was pleasantly surprised to see the Quiapo area with its eclectic mix of Chinese culture as well as Christian and Islamic places of worship. “People can get along,” she thought.
And boy, were there malls! Something every young kid can relate to.
When she was in Sulu, Lt. Ryan Gandeza and his Marines would tutor Sharifa who did pretty well in all her subjects save for math. “I hate math,” she proclaimed.
With her freshman year in UST ending, Gandeza caught up with his pupil and asked about her math. “Pasado,” she smiled. Gandeza raised his eyes in amazement. “Nice! Pero…”
“Bagsak ako sa Theology,” conceded Sharifa who admitted to being disinterested in studying another religion. The downside of her getting a failing grade in the subject is that it put her scholarship – not to mention her slot on the football team – in jeopardy. One needs to pass their subjects to be able to play.
There’s an awkward moment of silence between the two before the officer offered some piece of advice. “Take it as if you are studying a new culture… and you are,” he advised. “You have to promise me you will do it.”
The young Muslim girl nodded although Gandeza wasn’t convinced. Clearly, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
When Salip Jamuh graduates from her Physical Education course, she plans to return to Sulu to teach the young of the value of a sound mind in a sound body. She hopes to communicate her life changing experiences and maybe in turn change some lives and convince them that change doesn’t come through violence and taking up arms. She has relatives who have taken up arms as insurgents. Yet they are nothing short of amazed at her exploits. Even meeting Phil Younghusband!
For a young Muslim girl from the south who grew up with violence as a daily occurrence, she abhors it now. She cannot even stand the sight of it.
“Peace… it is possible,” the young girl proclaimed. “Change isn’t easy. But if we work together we can achieve a lot.”