The Philippine Lockdown
The unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Filipinos left many sick, unemployed, hungry, and afraid. Like the rest of the world, it impacted almost all areas of personal, communal and societal aspect. The Philippine government had to grapple with how to respond effectively to this unknown situation.
Our Response: One Assumption in the Fullness of Charity
Batch 35 of AMA volunteers were scheduled for a year-end evaluation and retreat on April 1-6, 2020. This batch is composed of 27 young men and women assigned in the Luzon and Visayas provinces who were supposed to gather at Assumption, Iloilo.
When the government declared a lockdown on March 17th, the evaluation was postponed as flights from Manila to any part of the country were all cancelled. A few of the volunteers were able to go home and most of the volunteers that had to remain in the areas continue to help out in any way they can: helping cook meals for the frontlines, sewing masks for Red Cross, assisting in online masses.
With the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, AMA created new ways to respond to the situation.
AMA alumni organized quarterly gathering called Zoomustahan (the term is derived from the platform Zoom and kumustahan is the Filipino term derived from the Spanish language’s “como esta?”.
The first Zoomustahan was in June 2020 with Sr. Gertrude Borres, R.A. dubbed “Building Community in the Midst of Pandemic.” The second was entitled “Revisiting the Teachings of St. Marie Eugenie” with Ms. Luisa “Bubut” Neri, co-director of the Marie Eugenie Institute (MEI) as resource person. The third was Recreating Communities through Fraternal Love: A Christmas Reflection on Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Fratelli, Tutti) facilitated by Sr. Gertrude Borres, R.A.
Also, an Assumption alumna, Dr. Geraldine Mayor conducted a webinar for AMA alumni and friends in October 2020 about taking care of one’s well-being during the pandemic.
Alongside these webinars and kumustahan (by batches), AMA alumni formed prayer circles creating a safe space for the alumni to share their experiences, whereabouts, and how they are coping with the situation.
Despite the physical distance among members of these groups, everyone was socially connected defying borders.
The AMA Alumni Community continues to extend help to the Assumption Socio EducationCenter (ASEC), a mission school of the Religious of the Assumption. Because of the pandemic, many of the mission schools reduced enrollees. These volunteers consist of teachers from the basic education and higher education divisions of the Assumption, AMA alumni from here and abroad.
One of the volunteers, a professor from the Assumption, has been given the chance to tutor a student from Assumption, Iloilo. The objective of the tutorials is to enhance or enrich the practical use of the Filipino language for academic and daily functions. Helping a student with any difficulty is always a mission to fulfill as an educator. On a positive note, the drastic shift to online teaching created frequent opportunities to connect so no matter where the student is, chances of connecting are now more possible with the online modality.
With the efforts of the AMA alumni and friends, the students of the mission schools are able to respond to their academic requirements quite successfully. Indeed, this collaboration with the AMA alumni and volunteers, together with the support of the Assumption sisters and Assumption alumnae, have somehow eased the challenges of the mission school teachers in coping with the demands of the new normal.
Moreover, there is a plan to create an English Conversational Fluency program for teachers. This project will help the teachers of the mission schools improve their confidence to speak the English language functionally and their ability to carry themselves in casual conversations. The program is a 12-hour interactive English language coaching to be facilitated by an Assumption educator. This is tentatively scheduled to take place this summer.
What do these experiences mean to us?
First off, during and after a crisis, nothing stays the same. This pandemic either brings out the best or the worst in a person. The fears brought about by the current challenges can either paralyze or inspire depending on the response to the situation. If one responds proactively, he shall find ways to live with the situation and continue to pray for God’s love and grace to see the pandemic through His majestic eyes. The crisis is an opportunity to be more generous in ways one has not yet imagined. Covid-19 has created the vacuum for human connection and material need so we give as God gives. We love as He loves. After all, everything is grace. The pandemic taught us to reach out to those who are suffering the wages of this situation, and with the power of coming together, all forms of giving and sharing was possible. There is no limit to the capacity of each person to extend help in any way. What we give to others, we give to ourselves.
Secondly, Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on brotherhood (fraternity) is very much experienced by members of the AMA Community. The community reached out to its members and affiliates through a series of Zoomustahan, tutorials, prayer circles, and special events celebrated online.
Thirdly, love our times. Today is the time to love. There is no other opportunity other than today. The challenges and uncertainties of life keep coming and going so we need to focus on God and remain in His love. Let us not miss out on the presence of God in this pandemic. We can face something more serious than Covid-19 so trusting in God’s protection, providence, and daily miracles will keep us afloat, fighting this big fight, and surrendering our lives completely to His mercy.
St. Marie Eugenie of Jesus teaches us to embrace the truth of this pandemic: Only Jesus. Always Jesus.
MOTHER MARIA TERESA SOLÍS AND MARIA VIRGINIA REVILLA
Province of the Philippines