Pandemic Response in the Philippines
By Leody Tan Echavez III, NCM Philippines
Every walk of life is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world literally stopped. As it wreaks havoc around the world, the poor and the marginalized are affected the most. The poor become economically paralyzed. This is also true in the Philippines. About one in five people in the Philippines live in extreme poverty.
When the government of the Philippines declared a community lock-down, all nonessential businesses are forced to cease operations and all public transportation are halted. Most people were only allowed to go to the grocery store once a week with one shopping voucher for each household.
Because of this unexpected situation, those who depend on a daily income immediately became the most vulnerable. The lock-down hinders them from freely going out and finding source of income for their daily sustenance. While the government is doing its best to provide support to the people, the most vulnerable are in large scale. It creates a bleak situation: in addition to facing the threat of death from the pandemic, those in poverty must also face the threat of extreme hunger.
The Church of the Nazarene in the Philippines has responded to these needs and will continue to do so. Although small and scattered in the peripheries of the country, our churches become beacons of hope and encouragement to thousands of affected people.
Many Nazarene churches and several Nazarene Child Development Centers in the Philippines have immediately planned and implemented response to this pandemic while observing all of the different safety guidelines by the Philippines’ Department of Health and World Health Organization. Churches distributed food packs, hygiene kits, face masks and printed Precautionary Measures against COVID-19 to the communities they are serving. A food pack contains basic necessities, including rice, canned goods, noodles, crackers and vegetables. Hygiene kits includes germicidal soap, chlorine for household disinfection, and 70% solution rubbing alcohol. Currently, there are more than 3,000 families – church members and non-church members – that have been helped. These families live in poverty – heads of the family are daily minimum or under minimum income earners, families with members who have disabilities, and the elderly.
The Philippines and Micronesia Field Office in partnership with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries provided small financial assistance to 275 affected Pastors and District Superintendents. They are pastors of small congregations whose church income declined significantly because most of their members have lost their source of income due to the lock-down. This financial assistance enables pastors and District Superintendents to buy food and medicine.
The Church of the Nazarene is also ensuring care for those on the front lines, including the military, police officers, medical professionals by providing food, sanitizers, and encouragement to them in these times of great crisis. Some churches distributed face masks and improvised personal protection equipment like face shields for the front-liners.
Caring for Children
Child Development Centers have also been an integral part of the response in the Philippines. On each of the three island groups that form the Philippines, children who would normally attend the centers are being cared for through cash assistance, food packs, seeds for subsistence gardens, disinfectants, masks, and more.
Razel, a parent whose children attend a center, says that the support has made a huge difference. “This is an answer to what I was praying for,” she says. “Since the first day of quarantine, we worried how we can get money for our food since we are many in our home.”
The Nazarene Child Development Centers have served 414 families (about 1,250 children) with food packs, hygiene kits and training, and spiritual care. More than 70 mothers with infants received meals and milk. Staff, volunteers, security workers, and health workers of our Child Development Centers are also provided with food and other basic needs.
The children who are attending our Child Development Centers are from low-income and impoverished families. Their economic situation has been worsen by the lock-down because their parents could not go to work and find source of income during the lock-down otherwise they can be arrested.
Saturnina, another parent of children who attend a center, says that her family would be able to eat because of the food distribution. “You really cared for us,” she says. “This would be our meal for today and in the days to come since our village hasn’t yet [been able] to give relief goods to us.”
Compassion in Love
With each church-led and child development distribution, whether of food or supplies, churches raised awareness about COVID-19 response and proper hygiene. Hygiene information was packed along with the food to raise massive awareness about the pandemic and how people can protect themselves. Some churches also included materials to raise awareness about water, sanitation, and hygiene projects and child protection and safety. This will enable communities to receive the food they desperately need, but also a heightened awareness of the different issues the Philippines is facing in addition to the pandemic.
The resources of the churches may be limited, but they chose to give their five loaves of bread and two fish and let the Lord multiply them. This snapshot is not all: there are even more churches who did not choose to inform the general public of their responses but were also a great blessing to their communities. Compassion is about love, and you cannot have compassion if you do not have the love of Christ that fuels you to be moved into action.
The Church of the Nazarene in the Philippines will continue to support and journey with their communities until this COVID-19 pandemic is over. They will continue to express the love of Christ through their actions and witness. As the pandemic and needs change, churches are re-calibrating their responses by developing food banks, cash assistance, care for the families of those that are infected by COVID-19, ensuring protection of children at home, and backyard gardens to continue to develop their communities.
The building and pews may be empty, but the church is alive, thriving and participating in the work of God in their communities.