Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

It has been one year since the Philippines had the first case of the COVID-19. It has been a year of missed haircuts, isolation, anxiety on job security, and general stupor. This event could somehow be one of the worse times of the century. The novel coronavirus has given rise to a global pandemic that has destabilized most institutional settings. The virus has massively disrupted economies, healthcare, and education systems worldwide. 

 

Malapascua used to be a busy island despite its remote location. A hotspot for diving tourism, it has established a very open and welcoming culture

An aerial shot of our volunteer marine conservation site in the Philippines

In April 2020, the island was placed under community quarantine. It was after the declaration of travel restrictions from the government due to rising COVID-19 cases. People were to stay inside their homes at all times. No one was allowed in the water, or even go fishing. The community relied mainly on government relief, or whatever food they can get within the island. Needless to say, they were tough times.

 

The upside of being in a remote fishing village was that it’s a long way from the center of movement and travel. The island actually exists somewhat inside a bubble of its own. With tourism brought to a standstill in the face of government-imposed restrictions, COVID cases were managed and kept to a bare minimum.

The thriving Philippines tourist industry has been bought to standstill by the COVID19 pandemic
Our alternative livelihood programme has been a success with marginalised fishing communities

But while there has been limited impact on health, the impact on livelihood was tremendous. In the last decade, tourism has grown to be the primary source of income. Malapascua was a perfect example of this. Almost everyone on the island was connected to the industry in some way. As the pandemic spread, it effects were increasingly hard hitting.

 

In 2016, People and the Sea helped establish a homestay program to help the community have an alternative income that could improve their economic resilience. Nanay Exaltacion was one of those who joined and opened her home for guests. 

Exaltation is a great example of a local household leader to has generated additional income through homestay

Nanay Exal (as she is known) earns at least Php3, 0000 a month from guests. That’s already good money to pay her electric bills, house utilities, and a bit to cover food expenses on top of what her kids give her every month. That is enough for her to live comfortably.

 

“Lisod kaayo. (‘It was difficult.’)  We are not used to being in this situation but I am still thankful that we can cope. I am still in good health and so are the rest of my family. My children were still able to earn and work even it is limited. That helped us survive the days. We started growing vegetables and that helped us with our food. The pandemic made me realize that we always have to be conscious of how we conduct our daily lives especially with cleanliness and recognizing the value of things necessary to survive. It won’t be easy but I am optimistic that we can get through this.”

Onil is one of the fishermen who’s been active on our Ecocean project where we monitor the fish stocks around the island. This gives us a rough estimate of how the fish population in Malapascua is doing.

“Life is hard. We don’t have work. We don’t have money. I used to work on the electrical maintenance of a few places here on the island. Having no tourists, the businesses I used to work for had to close. Now, I am back to fishing. -not that I am complaining. I am a fisherman first before I became an electrician. Fishing made us survive this pandemic. I realized the importance of the sea. It is not just because it brings in tourists and livelihood but because it provides for us. IT TAKES CARE OF US. We should do all we can to protect it. But looking back, the time before the pandemic was a better time for everyone.”

Onil is a member of the local fishing community assisted by our fisheries engagement programme

Despite the difficulties the island is facing, the community was still able to find joy in their daily activities. Early this year, the restrictions became a little less strict, allowing people to go to the ocean. During the mornings, people would visit the beach to buy fish from those who went fishing during the night. In the afternoons, you’ll see others gathering shells for their dinner. People started jogging around and playing sports like tennis to stay healthy. Maybe it’s the people’s collective energy that keeps the positivity in the island afloat. Whatever that is, it’s working well for everyone.

The local communities of Malapascua have adapted well to the changes brought by the pandemic

COVID-19 is more than a health crisis. The pandemic has already left a devastating impact on societies and economies across the globe. In the middle of all this, sadly, are the vulnerable communities. They are at the heart of the impact if health and recovery systems are not well placed. They are the ones currently suffering the most during these difficult times. 

 

This pandemic has revealed how connected we all are and how precarious life can be. As to Exal, Onil, and to everyone who keeps on soldiering on despite the hardships, we are one with you. Let us all fight harder to survive this. It is through our perseverance that we secure the hope for a better recovery.

Another amazing Malapascua sunset, taken from the volunteer expedition site

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