Covid-19: How are people helping one another to survive the pandemic?
Can you recall the days after your government announced total lockdown?
On March 16, 2020, the Philippine government placed a third of the country on complete lockdown to fight off the pandemic. The next day March 17, we were sent to work from home. On March 18, around lunchtime, more than half of the team received an email saying we were being let go. I remember telling myself, “this is the worst,” but then the next day, I realized, it’s not, not even close. March 19, dozens of people went by our house asking if they can provide any sort of service or chores in exchange for little money. I remember a woman, probably in her late 20s carrying a child around asking my mother if she can do our laundry for Php 200. That’s around $4 USD for hours of work. My mom told her to come back the next day. March 20, a Friday, the woman knocked on our gate while we were having breakfast. My mom went out and gave her some food supplies to take home for free. Mom went back to the table and said to me, “kung mahirap para sa atin, pano pa kaya para sa kanila” (if it’s hard for us, what more for them).
The most amazing thing I’ve seen during this pandemic? A strong sense of community many people instilled in their lives.
Philippines’ Bayanihan Spirit
Here in the Philippines, we have this tradition called “Bayanihan” which means the spirit of communal unity to help out people, especially those in need without expecting anything in return. Some people in our neighborhood including my mother got in touch with relatives and friends overseas who can spare a couple of dollars to use to buy food supplies to be distributed to people who are struggling. There were people who harvested everything from their small backyard farms to share with those in need. Even people in poverty contributed including farmers who reaped their crops to give to others.
In April this year, a woman by the name of Patricia Non started a small gesture of sharing which became a national movement - community pantry. Patricia set up a wooden table next to a light post in the streets of Quezon City and filled it with canned goods, noodles, rice, vegetables, and even a hand sanitizer people can use. People then stopped by to get any of the items for free. After the initiative went viral, people from different parts of the Phillippines started doing it including celebrities and social media influencers. There were even community pantries offering nothing but cupcakes.
The “Bayanihan” spirit also made it through the Philippines’ neighbor Timor-Leste. A couple of Timorese and Filipino nationals teamed up to set up the country’s first-ever community pantry in the capital city of Dili.
Everyone contributed, even the ones who were struggling the most.
Malaysia’s White Flag
Everyone knows what a white flag is for right? Surrender or giving up. Well, not in Malaysia. Malaysians launched the “Bendera Putih” (White Flag) movement that encourages people in desperate need of help to send a distress signal by placing or waving a white flag or clothe in front of their homes. The white flag symbolizes two things, struggle and solidarity.
Zulkifie Samsudin, a 39-year-old welder from Kangkar Pulai, Johor struggled to make ends meet for his family. His wife is pregnant and he had to buy milk and diapers for his 1-year-old son. Afraid of his family going hungry, he raised a white flag and people came to his aid.
The movement went viral on social media and people started using the hashtags #SolidaritiBenderaPutih (white flag solidarity) and #SolidaritiRakyatMalaysia (solidarity of the people of Malaysia) to spread the word. Hundred of Malaysians went out their way to provide whatever help they can, be it giving out food supplies or helping families pay their monthly bills and car loans.
When my mom was packing the food supplies to give the woman asking if we can hire her, I told her, “we need that, why give it away.” She answered, “you’re getting fat, eat an apple and, they need it more.” I was selfish, but thank God mom set me straight.
There is still a long way to go. People are still unemployed and the pandemic continues to threaten our lives. The drive to help someone will also be my favorite thing that brings people together.