Strengthening community



SunStar Publishing Inc.


ACTIVATING stakeholders in the community to keep all members safe and healthy may be one of the important learnings of the coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. Residents living in the same sitio, barangay, village, subdivision or neighborhood have a mutual need to cooperate and coexist, a reciprocity underscored by the pressures and challenges of surviving the quarantine. Villagers volunteer to act as or augment the security guards ensuring that only residents enter the community to minimize community transmission. Neighbors approach to ask those not observing the safety protocols recommended by the authorities. As the quarantine extends and leaves many in need of food or livelihood, the “bayanihan” tradition of empathy and succor for others continues through neighbors pitching in, giving handouts, hiring locals, or buying from home-based entrepreneurs. Homeowners’ associations, sitio leaders and “barkadas” of youth volunteers help the elderly living alone, persons with disability, those requiring refills of maintenance medicine and abandoned cats and dogs—members of a community whose special needs may be ignored by local governments. This civic spirit to share the stake must sustain communities, considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the possibility that Covid-19 will stay as another endemic virus, with global populations taking years to develop immunity until a vaccine is found. Citizens must shift their thinking from being purely on the defense against Covid-19 to surviving the virus for the long haul. This survival demands community, not just in working with the authorities but also empowering citizens to take responsibility for their families and villages. Observance of quarantine protocols—wearing a face mask or a piece of cloth improvised to cover the nose and mouth, limiting trips for essential purposes and observing physical distancing—is an act every citizen can do to protect people, specially vulnerable persons. Recently, village chiefs in Cebu City complain they are short of resources to enforce lockdowns, reported Jerra Mae Librea in SunStar Cebu last June 27. Poor communication was blamed, with officials citing the need to improve linkages between the Cebu City Government and barangays. In sitios and barangays showing a number of Covid-19 cases, communication among the residents and leaders is also an area that needs improvement and reinforcement. Due to the pandemic, communication must involve a mix of online and offline platforms to engage the community. Homeowners associations maintain a Facebook page to update villagers on news developments and announcements requiring their attention and participation. Through moderation of comments, association officials can encourage exchanges of views and suggestions that benefit the neighborhood. When there is no access to the Internet, there should be recourse to “offline community platforms,” such as the deployment of extension workers. Barangay health workers (BHWs) are crucial for educating, monitoring and assisting citizens in the pandemic. The WHO and the Department of Health have trained BHWs as essential frontliners in Covid-19 Infection Prevention and Control (IPC). Aside from echoing learning about IPC measures at home and in the community, the BHWs, by living or being immersed in the neighborhood, are familiar with and understand the specific circumstances, constraints and opportunities facing residents in managing their health and safety. Public health is not just carrying out scientific and medical protocols but also balancing the socio-economic welfare of citizens. It requires citizens and leaders to listen to one other, respond to shared needs and preserve their well-being. The resources a community should mobilize are the people.