Say what you will about millennials, but while most of the country is quarantined in the safety of their homes, these young men and women risk their lives each time they report for work or choose to serve others despite the daily threat of catching COVID-19.
Here are their stories and the lessons they learned from the frontlines.
Debbie Bartolo, 26, Community Organizer
Frontliner feat: Worked with Bayanihan Musikahan (which raised P122,383,196.40), Jollibee Group Foundation (which pledged frozen food packs), and ABS-CBN’s Pantawid ng Pag-ibig. For her part, Debbie, founder of Likha Initiative, tapped personal networks to raise P6,000 to help families affected by the pandemic.
“Over a hundred thousand families from Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, and most areas of the National Capital Region were able to benefit from our organization efforts,” says Debbie, who was part of ANSA-EAP Foundation and worked with Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilya ng Pantawid. “For our own fundraising, we have been in touch with informal settlers from Alabang, Muntinlupa City.”
Best part of the job: Seeing how far their help goes. “Some of our recipients and community leaders came from an island and even mountainous areas, but through combined efforts, they were able to receive and distribute grocery packs and food packs not just for our intended beneficiaries but even to their neighbors who are also in need,” Debbie says. “They say, ‘Makakatawid narin kami kahit isang araw lang na hapunan.’ Although heartbreaking, it made me realize how valuable our work is.”
“Social solidarity at a time of physical distancing is one of the most notable lessons everyone can learn from this pandemic,” Debbie adds. “The gratitude coming from families kept us motivated to do more. Despite not knowing most recipients of our efforts, they still managed to express their utmost happiness on the fact that they can rely on private individuals and organizations in turbulent times.”
Christine Shannen Arayata, 28, Registered Nurse
Frontliner feat: Staring COVID-19 straight in the eye. Christine, a nurse for the last six years at Bulacan’s Our Lady of Mercy General Hospital, encountered four COVID-19 positive patients in the ER. The two who were admitted at the ICU and required intubation have since recovered. One was transferred to a government hospital and the other expired.
“Every duty at the ER is a challenge,” Christine says. “You need to learn to be firm and dapat marunong kang manindak. Nowadays, some patients will not tell you the truth until it’s too late because they are afraid that we will take them as ‘Probable’ and ‘Suspected,’ or they are afraid that they might have the disease. And that’s one of the reasons why many of us health workers, especially doctors, die.” (Read: Want to show support to COVID-19 patients and frontliners? Send them greeting cards!)
Realizations from the pandemic: “I’ve come to enjoy the little things more and live life to the fullest,” Christine shares. “After all the recent events that had happened during the pandemic, I realized that God is protecting me. I could have been struck with the disease but up to this moment, I am alive and well. That’s why I’m not going to take my life for granted.”
Kevin Gatchalian, 27, Photojournalist
Frontliner feat: These days, Kevin, photojournalist of Valenzuela’s Public Information Office, documents what his city is doing for its constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, the distribution of relief packs called Care Bags to families of children with severe disabilities. (Read: LGUs are now turning to local farmers for healthier relief goods)
“The events that I have covered speak thousands of words and stories,” Kevin says. “I’m happy that in my own little way, even though I am not from the medical field, I am able to capture stories and moments that will stay for years in the history of our city. My photos are something we can always look back on and appreciate what we have overcome.”
From PPEs to prayer: Amid the threat of the novel coronavirus, Kevin wears the proper protective gear, disinfects himself after coverages, showers when he gets home, eats healthy, and uses an extra-long camera lens during shoots. “I always pray to God every time,” he says. “Since my family is on the other side of the world, we have video conferences every Wednesday and Sunday Manila time to pray for the protection of our family and the world against COVID-19.”
Kaiser Gonzalez, 28, Medical Technologist
Frontliner feat: As medical technologist at the Pasig City Health Department, Kaiser performs and analyzes a wide range of tests that aids in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases. He has also added oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal swabbing of suspected COVID-19 patients to his responsibilities. (Read: What’s the difference between the PCR and the Rapid Test Kits?)
“I think medtechs are one of the most exposed frontliners since we deal with the virus itself,” Kaiser shares. “When we were first called for the job, I was scared, not for myself, but for the repercussion to my family and friends. But I decided to volunteer because I am confident that I can do the job well and among my colleagues, I am fit for the job—I’m single and have no children to take care of. My job entails everyday exposure to the virus. Even after I get swabbed today, tomorrow, I’ll get exposed again. It’s a constant threat to us.”
Challenge accepted: “It’s a difficult time for many frontliners like me so we uplift our morale through prayer. We see this pandemic as a challenge from God and praying that we overcome being apart from family, friends, and the restrictions brought by this is one of the things we hold on to. At work, we have become more united because we have a sole purpose now—to fight COVID-19. We have become kinder to each other and we look out for each other more. I value and appreciate human interaction more these days.”