Gustavo Gonzalez, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, wrote in a press statement: “The Covid-19 pandemic has…shown that the magnitude of the challenge is exceeding the response capacity of any single partner or country. It represents, in fact, one of the most dramatic calls to work together.”
Fortunately, there are a number of groups and individuals who are responding to this call. While some were already assisting marginalized and underserved sectors even before the pandemic struck, their efforts have intensified in recent months.
These are just some of the groups that have been trying to help our more vulnerable communities.
“I posted on Facebook about the pleas of our farmers and the post went viral and was shared more than 13,000 times.”
Imagine being a farmer and pinning your hopes on the season’s harvest. Now imagine the threat of having your produce go to waste as roads, restaurants and hotels remain closed during quarantine. This was the springboard for Project Agapay, an initiative to help Cordilleran farmers and small and medium enterprises. Partnering with different private companies, Project Agapay purchased the farmers’ produce at a fair price and then sold them to local governments, hospitals, grocery stores, companies and private citizens.
Rico says that he “accidentally started” Project Agapay through a Facebook post. “During the start of the community lockdown, farmers from Tublay, Buguais and La Trinidad asked me to help them sell their produce, particularly their lettuce, as they were having a hard time transporting and selling their vegetables because their big clients were closed,” he says. “I posted on Facebook about the pleas of our farmers and the post went viral and was shared more than 13,000 times. My personal inbox and phone exploded with thousands of queries, support and encouragement from people, artists and politicians. My phone rang non-stop.”
Together with his friends in Baguio and Manila, they were able to sell more than 4,000 kilos of lettuce to local governments, hospitals, grocery stores, companies and private citizens. “We continued the initiative [to] help as many farmers as we can,” says Rico, who works with fellow volunteers Christine Fais, Mark Fong, and Janine Marcelo. To date, they’ve deployed more than 160,000 kilos of vegetables to different parts of Luzon and have worked with private logistical companies to send relief packs to depressed areas. They have also been providing assistance to others who have lost their income, such as entertainers, event organizers, tour guides and PUV drivers.
If you would like to help, you can check out their Facebook page for a list of products you can purchase. They have coffee, fruits (particularly strawberries), dry goods and handicrafts. Rico emphasizes that Project Agapay does not accept donations. “For private individuals and companies who want to help and donate and believe in our cause, we encourage them to just buy vegetables — even not from this project — directly from farmers at a fair and reasonable price and donate it to your community and chosen charities,” he says.
“We do [voluteerism and activism] because we are hopeful about getting to something better.”
People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action (PAGASA) started out as and remains largely a platform for holding the government accountable and disseminating information about current social and political issues. But when lockdown was imposed, they expanded their reach to helping communities that were most affected.
Led by writer, critic and teacher Katrina Stuart Santiago, PAGASA distributed survival packs while working around lockdown rules. “The response was massive and overwhelming,” says Katrina. “We worked with activist groups, non-government organizations, single parents and PWD associations and individual volunteers who just wanted to help their immediate communities.” During lockdown, they provided assistance to various communities in Rizal, Tondo, Las Piñas and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, among others. “We continue to help the Lake Sebu community with the sustainability initiative of assisting in the planting seasons of our farmers whenever we can,” adds Katrina.
Aside from providing regular reports to donors, PAGASA also provided background information on the recipients. “We would always include facts about why a certain sector, group or community have been so neglected all these years, to contextualize why they are so adversely affected by the pandemic.” Their concise posts always come in the form of eye-catching graphics with snappy text.
The core group of PAGASA is made up of Anina Abola, Keisha Uy, CJ Despuez and Leslie Umaly, who are all doing volunteer work on top of their day jobs. Katrina also says they have worked extensively with Bayang Matulungin of Bayan Muna.
“When the lockdown was lifted, we decided to shift to the sustainability and accountability part of PAGASA, which required us to focus on issues and disseminating information that we feel is important so that more of us become more concerned not just with the urgent needs such as hunger but also with the bigger issues of the nation. In that sense, PAGASA was always about both volunteerism and activism,” says Katrina. She views volunteerism and activism as acts of hope: “We do both of these things because we are hopeful about getting to something better.”
Tribes and Treks
“The program brought in a different kind of tourism to San Felipe [Zambales] and other tourism stakeholders would benefit as well.”
Instead of just catching a wave and lounging under the sun on your next trip to Zambales, why not take part in an eco tour that helps out the local Aeta community? Developed by The Circle Hostel and Make a Difference (MAD) Travel, Tribes and Treks is a “sustainable way to help the tribes while nurturing and caring for the environment,” says Ziggie Gonzales, who co-owns The Circle Hostel along with Raf Dionisio. “The long-term goal is to have a 3,000-ha food forest on their ancestral land.”
The tour takes people on a hike, where participants get to know the tribe and their culture, learn about the importance of having a forest in our ecosystem and get to plant trees. “The money earned from the tours goes to helping provide livelihood for the tribe and funding the forest,” says Ziggie. “Since the pandemic we wanted to make sure the tribe is protected and have been selling ‘tree donation coupons’ and consolidating goods from the communities to stay in business.”
Ziggie and Raf started Tribes and Treks because they wanted to go beyond mere surf tourism. “Our passions both lie in helping communities and the environment and Raf was able to build the trust and a relationship with an Aeta community near the first hostel location,” says Ziggie. “After many conversations with them, we came to the conclusion that the best way to help them and the environment long term would be to help them reforest and the interim solution would be to use tourism as the base so that the tribe can still retain and practice their cultures and traditions.”
Raf explains that when it comes to food security, the focus is always on agriculture — but we need to understand that trees are an integral part of the whole system. “The forest provides water to all our farms and if we have the right micro climates in our key food production areas, we can mitigate flood and reduce the risk of drought,” he says, adding that trees can absorb up to 2,000 liters of water in their roots, preventing floods and then discharging the water during dry season.
According to Raf, Tribes and Treks has already grown and incubated 8,000 seedlings since March and has a direct impact on about 40 families in the Yangil community, but he believes that there is the potential to help out even more people. “The program brought in a different kind of tourism to San Felipe [Zambales] and other tourism stakeholders would benefit as well.”