20/20 Vision From the Challenges of 2020 (Part 2)

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
~ Charles Darwin

After so many months of feeling besieged by the social and economic restrictions of the pandemic lockdown, it was easy to lose sight that the rest of the world is experiencing similar hardships. In some countries like the Philippines however, the situation was exacerbated by the destruction in the wake of back-to-back super typhoons Goni and Vamco from late October to mid-November.

Despite these grim developments, the Filipino spirit of community collaboration known as Bayanihan re-emerged from the darkness and inspired a plethora of fundraisers and donation drives from the Filipino diaspora. Here in Canada, Calgary-based businesswoman Alma Armada and Eusebio ‘Jun’ Cacayuran, president of the Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains (FORM), along with a handful of other Filipino-Albertan organizations, banded together to organize the purchase and distribution of rice and other relief goods for families in the typhoon-stricken areas. Calling itself the Gintong Butil Outreach, the initiative quickly grew to involve over 46 Filipino-Canadian organizations, with Barangay Canada included among its media partners. Distribution efforts were coordinated with the Canadian Red Cross and various NGOs based in the Philippines, while photos of the relief operations are shown on its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GintongButilOutreach.

Reasons for Hope: COVID-19 Vaccine and Collaboration with Various Levels of Government

In mid-November, hope was re-kindled with the announcement that a vaccine against COVID-19 has been developed, and that it shows 90% effectiveness in clinical trials. The news was hailed around the world as a historic moment.

An additional source of encouragement for the Filipino-Canadian community was the support and concern shown by the various levels of government. In Manitoba for example, Notre Dame MLA and Critic for Immigration Malaya Marcelino met with this writer and other community representatives to get inputs for her vote on Premier Brian Pallister’s Throne Speech made in early October. The following month, no less than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself held a virtual meeting with representatives of the Filipino-Manitoban community to see how they were coping in these pandemic times. Selected guests from the business, education, youth and health care sectors took turns speaking with the Prime Minister to share an overview of how their respective sectors were doing and the concerns they might have.

Saving Christmas From Being Cancelled

The sentiment that the world has turned a corner became more palpable as additional information about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was released, and with the anticipation of the new US administration putting a more effective pandemic containment plan into action. Christmas celebrations eventually pushed through, albeit in virtual form which has become the new normal in the pandemic era.

On December 16, this writer once again had the privilege of representing Barangay Canada at Parliament Hill’s Virtual Christmas Gathering, thanks to the kind invitation shared by Narima Dela Cruz, founder and president of the Surrey Independence Day Society (SPIDS). Dela Cruz had the honour of lighting the Advent candle of Peace, and speaking about its significance at the said event which was jointly hosted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister, the Hon. Marco Mendicino, Winnipeg-North MP Kevin Lamoureux, and Scarborough Centre MP Salma Zahid.

For its own part, Barangay Canada sought to end the year on an upbeat note for kababayans by way of an hour-long Yuletide special dubbed ‘Christmas Coast to Coast Kumustahan.’ Various community leaders from British Columbia all the way to Nova Scotia brought greetings and shared messages of hope for the Christmas season and the new year. Because no Filipino celebration is complete without music, several kababayan artists generously pitched in with covers of Christmas classics and some even performed their original compositions. The video of Christmas Coast to Coast Kumustahan can still be viewed at https://barangaycanada.com/christmas-kumustahan.

As the year drew to a close, perhaps the key takeaway is that 2020 has given people 20/20 vision in seeing what to be truly thankful for — the blessings of health, food and shelter; continued livelihood; the love of one’s family; and the support and collaboration of a community of friends and relatives. As the world starts anew in 2021, may it look back to the lessons learned from a very trying year so that it can look forward to a safer and more sustainable future for us all and the coming generations.

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.