Marawi City, Philippines – It was a surreal feeling to visit ground zero of Marawi City. It’s one thing to read about it in the news and a whole other experience to see first hand a once vibrant city completely devasted. Driving through the streets I saw buildings blown to pieces. What is left of homes and businesses is just concrete shells, speckled with bullet holes and gaping open spaces from air strikes.

Even more sobering was to visit ground zero with my friend Rahana, a resident of Marawi, who on May 23 was with family burying her brother-in-law when she received urgent notice to vacate the city immediately. Insurgents had taken siege of the city and the military was moving in to fight. She had no time to go home and gather valuables. She grabbed her children and began a 12 hour journey on foot to the closest neighboring city of Iligan.

That was 7 months ago and this trip into ground zero was her first back in, thanks to special military clearance that we received. As we were escorted through the city and neared her home, she just broke in tears. I broke also on the inside. I could feel just a portion of her overwhelming trauma, loss, heartache and pain.

From ground zero we went to two evacuation camps where we met over 500 people who also have lost everything with stories similar to Rahana. In total there are over 400,000 IDPs (internally displaced person) from the marawi siege incident. #marawi