20/20 Vision From the Challenges of 2020 (Part 1)

“Our reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself.”
~ Anonymous

With over a million lives that perished from COVID-19 and millions more getting sick, or have lost their livelihood or family members, these past nine months felt like humanity’s dark night of the soul. The pandemic era ushered in a ‘new normal’ as we now call it, and looking back on 2020, we saw ourselves adapt, remain resilient and find creative ways to keep moving forward.

Living in the New Normal
In the world of business, companies found ways to soldier on. Office staff were allowed to work from home, while onsite essential personnel wore their personal protective equipment (PPE), kept safe distance, and practiced hand hygiene. In fact, Microsoft Canada was already looking beyond the pandemic era at its Future Now event held in late October. Canada’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan was the main subject at the software giant’s premiere annual event. Having gone digital this year, over 100 plus resource speakers ranging from government officials to Microsoft executives and industry thought leaders engaged in discussions about real-world digital transformation. The Hon. Navdeep Bains, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, was among the notable guests.

As for budding entrepreneurs, even the pandemic cannot dampen their spirit and enthusiasm. In late October, the Barangay Canada Community Update welcomed Renterii, a tech startup that enables people to rent various gear and lifestyle items in their locality. Stopping by to talk about their exciting new service were the company’s co-founders Jordan Smith and Jhoan Jimenez Molin, and creatives Kyle Manalang and CJ Macaraeg. As a first-generation newcomer, it’s inspiring to witness Molin, Manalang and Macaraeg — all second-generation Filipino-Canadians — at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship!
Not to be outdone, the entertainment industry also adapted to the new reality. Following the lead of other film festivals that went digital this year, the Philippines’ Metro Manila Film Festival will be streamed on the online platform upstream.ph. Filipino screenwriting legend Ricky Lee dropped by the Barangay Canada Vodcast in early December to talk about his adapted screenplay ‘Tagpuan’ (Rendezvous) which is among this year’s official entries. He also shared an anecdote that explains the title of his latest book ‘Kulang na Silya’ (Missing Seat). Having been a participant of his screenwriting workshop back in the early 2000s, it was exhilarating that my former mentor accepted the invitation and allowed viewers a glimpse into his unparalleled literary career that spans forty years.

Among those that made major adjustments due to the pandemic restrictions were schools and other educational institutions. Students shifted to remote learning or blended learning to keep up with their lessons. Graduation rites looked very different as well to ensure compliance with public health guidelines. At the ‘walk-through’ graduation ceremonies of the Brandon campus of Assiniboine Community College, everyone was required to wear masks and practice physical distancing. Attendees followed a path bordered by guard rails. Near the entrance of this path, graduates picked up and put on their gown, cap and tassel. A short walk away along the path was the section where diplomas are handed off by college leadership. At the end of the path is a station where the gowns were dropped off.

Adapting to the new normal also produced unexpected accomplishments. One such example is the re-emergence of Barangay Canada. Once a dormant media project, its main challenge was having a nationwide scope. With the surge in popularity of cloud conferencing, it suddenly became easier to touch base with Filipino-Canadian community figures anywhere in the country. After a well-received inaugural season of 25 episodes, the Vodcast made a triumphant return in its second season in late November.

A Larger Threat Looms on the Horizon
But many challenges remain. More than a war with this invisible coronavirus, another battlefront opened up: the battle for people’s hearts and minds. As lockdowns continued and the social disconnect dragged on, some folks turned to alternative media sources for information. Among the things the Internet is notorious for is the proliferation of sketchy websites that provide unreliable, unsubstantiated and outlandish information that led people to flout public health orders, based on the speculation that the pandemic is a mere hoax or a ploy of the government to gain more control over the people and line its pockets.

In early November, international sustainability professional Maggie Lee reminded viewers of the Barangay Canada Vodcast to be mindful as well of the prevailing climate crisis and environmental damage. Maggie shared her insights about this continuing existential threat, using as an example how large amounts of recyclable plastic waste end up in landfills instead of actually getting recycled.

The pandemic has also racked up a tremendous human toll in the form of economic hardships from job loss, illness and shuttered businesses. Desperate times have driven those already in poverty to use children in acts of online sexual abuse and violence. In late November, Anu George Canjanathoppil of International Justice Mission, and Winnipeg-based community advocate Leila Castro visited the Vodcast to shine a light on this human crisis. It was one of those dark topics that just needed to be dragged into the cold light of day.
(to be concluded in part 2)

Kris Ontong is an award-winning community advocate and a finalist in the 12th RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. He is the co-founder and vodcast host of Barangay Canada.