Poor communities survive pandemic on their own
MANILA, Philippines — As the government floundered in its efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, marginalized communities across the Philippines have come to rely on their own creativity to survive the health crisis.
Some have established farm markets and pooled their own relief funds. Or organized a group of weavers of cloth masks and bags. Or created a small health “task force” of sorts to keep tabs on their community members.
These grassroots approaches have not only strengthened community bonds but also filled in crucial gaps left behind by the government’s inadequate aid, according to the University of the Philippines’ Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS).
The UP CIDS study, conducted in collaboration with the UN Economic, Social and Cultural Organization, looked into the “effect of the pandemic on society’s marginalized and vulnerable sectors and how they responded to it,” said its program convener, Eduardo Tadem.
“While COVID-19’s adverse impact cuts across all sectors of society, poor and marginalized communities are more vulnerable and bear the brunt of the crisis,” Tadem said. “But despite difficulties and limitations, some grassroots organizations have taken up important roles in providing relief for their communities.”
The study looked at five communities across the Philippines: an urban poor homeowners’ association, a health watch program for a relocated urban poor community, a women’s social enterprise, the Ayta Mag-indi in Pampanga, and the “lumad bakwit” (indigenous evacuees) schools in Mindanao.
All have shown great resilience and collective leadership during the crisis, the researchers found.
Members of the Alyansa ng mga Samahan sa Sitio Mendez, Baesa Homeowners’ Association (Asamba) in Quezon City, for example, quickly established their own monitoring and checkpoints during the lockdown to protect themselves from local transmissions.
“When the pandemic hit, we were really caught unprepared,” said Erlinda Sapiandante, former president of Asamba. “But we knew we had to coordinate and act in solidarity. It was difficult to rein in 300 families, [but] it had to be done because we had to take care of our own.”
Despite finding lockdowns alienating, the Ayta Mag-indi in Porac also enforced their own quarantine for self-protection.
They relied on their ancestral domain for food and safety, and used traditional knowledge about medicinal plants and fruits to boost their health and immune system. They even produced their own face masks and pooled all outside assistance to be equally distributed to their members.
Other communities initiated similar social services.
A health watch group in Bulacan tapped volunteers to lead local health monitoring and education efforts. It also solicited relief aid for its members, said Marivic Atacador, its head.
A women’s social enterprise group, Maigting na Samahan ng mga Panlipunang Negosyante ng Towerville Inc., also in Bulacan, pivoted their business of handwoven bags and clothes to produce face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The group started in 2014 as a livelihood project sponsored by international organization CAMP Asia.
When the pandemic hit, the enterprise began accepting bulk orders for PPE and masks, with each member earning P300 to P900 a day.
Not an excuse
But while the communities successfully kept themselves afloat, they called on the government to give them ample support and aid, and to be tested and given priority in the distribution of anti-COVID-19 vaccines.
“As vividly narrated by the five case studies, communities are able to (understand) and carry out the necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus in their localities,” said Tadem. “But since they are hampered by a lack of resources, they need the support of the government to effectively carry out their pandemic control systems.”
All of them reported that the promised subsidy under the government’s social amelioration program either came late, was not enough or did not reach them at all.
Sapiandante called on the Department of Education to make sure that the students in poor and marginalized communities, whose studies have been disrupted by the pandemic, recover and be fully reintegrated in the education system.
Atacador stressed that the unemployed in poor and marginalized communities should be given jobs to help them recover from the pandemic. INQ
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