COVID culture

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With everyone stuck at home, our screens have become our main windows to the outside world. We wake up to updated counts of COVID-19 cases and the latest who’s who contracting the virus. We then get served an unhealthy amount of advice on how to combat the virus, sprinkled with anecdotes that either warn or warm the heart.

The daily bombardment of news has given us a lot of food for thought, in terms of how we as a species respond to a shared crisis. One recurring theme is the difference between Eastern and Western responses. Governance styles have been scrutinized, but so have cultural differences. Western failings have been blamed on a highly individualistic society that focuses on self-preservation and isolation. Meanwhile, the eastern values of cooperation, shared responsibilities, and societal obligation have served countries like Taiwan, Japan, and Korea well.

The numbers speak for themselves. Current tallies have North America and major European countries at the top of the charts. Powerhouses like the USA, France, Germany, and the UK are facing staggering numbers of new cases daily, while their eastern counterparts have contained theirs to less than 50 per day. Perhaps solving this health crisis is less a matter of access to resources or wealth, than it is about the people’s attitude and willingness to work together.

Where does the Philippines sit in this massive polarization of approach? As a country, we’ve always been a bit of a paradox. Despite sitting squarely in Southeast Asia, we’ve always had one foot in the west. Many of our ideals and cultural leanings have American and Spanish influences. Our response to COVID-19 is just as nuanced.

It can be argued that the Philippine approach to dealing with the pandemic is unique, and that optimistically speaking, it has brought out some of our people’s best qualities. Here are a few:

‘Bayanihan’: Citizen action

Filipinos have a way of coming through for their neighbors, a trait embodied in the un-translatable word bayanihan. Now, more than ever, this is shining through. In the west, people have lost faith in their governments and are fending for themselves. In the east, people have put all their faith in their governments and have been fully cooperative. As for us, we may have given up on our national government, but we have not retreated into our own shells, either. Instead, many of us are stepping up to fill the gaps left by our government’s failings, almost like organized anarchy.

A group called Pagasa—People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action—has made it their mandate to “#FeedThePeople most in need during this lockdown, and demand from government: #FoodNotFear.” It is simultaneously decrying the government’s aggressive and reactive stance that marginalizes the poor, while mobilizing resources for compassionate action to help them survive. They have pooled donors and suppliers to provide hundreds of survival packs to daily wage earners, and warm meals to hospital front-liners—quite a feat for a small team that hasn’t even met in person since their program commenced.

Resourcefulness: Social media for social good

Other similar ad hoc civilian efforts are cropping up everywhere—and thanks to a nation obsessed with social media, it’s now easier than ever to pool resources and link providers to those in need.

Xyzeus, an alumnae group from girls’ high school Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA), joined the battle against COVID by providing personal protective equipment for hospital front-liners. Their batch fund drive started with two batchmates discussing how they could help, and posting about it in their batch Facebook group. “If we hit 50 likes, we would push through with it. When we hit even more than that, we saw how much support there was for the idea, and decided to do it,” says Jen, who handles their publicity materials. They kept exceeding their fund targets, and have been able to procure supplies for hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital, the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Asian Hospital Medical Center (AHMC), and the National Center for Mental Health.

No effort is too small; a pair from ICA batch 2003 is steadily providing meals to front-liners in smaller, often overlooked hospitals, while some physician alumnae have been raising funds for protective equipment in Frontliners for the Frontlines PH. Another group called Food Aid PH is focusing efforts on helping Filipinos stay at home by distributing relief packs. A quick search on social media or our messaging groups will reveal that there is no shortage of ways to help out, without ever leaving our homes.

Resilience: Bouncing back

Filipinos are known for our resilience. We can smile through adversity, see the silver lining in every cloud, and bounce back after crises. Now, more than ever, we need to draw on this unshakable determination. We must have faith that the same creative, resourceful bayanihan spirit that is tiding us over will also help us rebuild our lives once the COVID crisis is over.

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