San Pedro: Kindness is infectious

In the townships of the Philippines, lockdown measures have cause conflict and chaos, and in someways seem to be increasing risk. Surrounded by hunger and frustration, Seimon Gaitos and his family stepped in where government is failing, and with a little help from his friends half-way around the world in Austria, spread food relief - and a little kindness.

Hello, my name is Seimon Gaitos, I am from the Laguna, Philippines and this is my Covid story. Let me warn everyone that there is no way that our story can be told without being a little political about it. My story starts one evening when I was out with my friends in our local bar when our government issued an executive order regarding the lockdown of our region. We first thought it was nothing serious and we would all get back to normal after a week or two. But fear is there somewhere inside of us, and so conscious not to spread fear to others I kept quiet… Not knowing whether that would be the last time we will see each other until everything goes back to normal, when? We don’t know yet.

Seimon and his friends. Photos by Seimon Gaitos

I live in a town called San Antonio, in the City of San Pedro. Yes, I live in the city but I wouldn’t define it as a busy city, it’s actually riding on a thin line of being a city and province – it is a young city. Most of the people in my Barangay (township) San Antonio are daily wagers, peddlers and people who live surviving day by day. It’s a no work no pay situation for them. Most of the private companies are in the same situation as well no work, no pay! We are in the export business and our government allows few types of industries to fully operate currently. We are one of the lucky ones. Some of our workers live nearby and we can still manage to operate, but with the strict standards of social distancing and other precautionary measures. Most of our workers can’t come to work as there are different rules for every townships, with quarantine passes are scheduled depending on township of residence. Even if you could go to work public transportation was shut down altogether with the lock down. No movement is permitted, unless you want to buy your basic necessities, but that on a schedule, on a given two days when you are allowed to go out. Three weeks into the lock down we can definitely feel the gravity of the situation. The situation is very toxic! People are fighting online, in the streets, for food relief, people wanting to work, and with different political beliefs. The toxicity is deafening! I tried to voice my opinion but there are valid points on each side. I just stop, and focus on what really matters most my community.

Barangay Township, San Antonio, San Pedro. Photo by Seimon Gaitos

Me and my family were surrounded by hunger and frustration, so my mom started buying rice, canned goods and basic hygiene products to give away to neighbours and to our front liners and border guards… That’s when I chipped in too and bought food relief to give away around our community, it felt good but I also felt I was not doing enough and can only give so much. We are also getting cancelled purchase orders from our export company, so our heads are juggling priorities at the moment. Our local government and their officials are missing in action – hiding in their mansions and not putting much effort into relief and virus prevention. The narrow time frame that you are allowed to be in the market causes people to gather in the same place at the same time by the hundreds, and this has caused the number of Covid-positive patients to boom! People are telling LGU via social media to reform and reconsider their lockdown strategies, but until now we only get silence. Local government officials are fighting with each other online! This is more of a chaotic circus show than a pandemic response.

The rice distribution efforts. Photos by Seimon Gaitos

So one day I turned to my friends in Austria, where I had lived for years. I told them every bit of the situation here. An artist friend there, Florian Tanzer, enthusiastically said YES right away! Not a second of hesitation! It lit up the fire in me! His positivity is infectious! He helped set up a fundraising drive with his own friends in Austria, and my other friends in Vienna also helped out. We managed to collect a descent amount to be able to buy food and basic hygiene products for almost 200 families in my community. I got help from my family as well in repacking the goods. While giving out our relief you can see a glimmer of hope in every person’s eyes to whom I handed the pink bag of relief goods. I felt hopeful in that moment. I was happy and thankful at the same time. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who helped me, especially Florian Tanzer positive you are heaven-sent for these people! In a place and situation like this we just need just one helping hand to pull us up, to change the situation for one person even just for a moment. That moment could save lives and might mean so much for someone. Let’s infect them with kindness instead!

Unfortunately as I am writing this story the total number of confirmed Covid-positive cases has skyrocketed and the lockdown has been extended. There have been incidents of violence due to hunger and frustration. And just the other day a man hanged himself because he was disqualified for government financial assistance, which we cannot say will be given. It’s sad but in reality Covid brings with it more than the illness alone. But I hope this story will spark something inside of everyone: the desire to give a helping hand and be a beacon of hope for anyone who needs it. I know I won’t lose hope. We are stronger than this, together!

This story was shared by Seimon Gaitos, from San Pedro, The Philippines, who works in a food export business, and formerly lived in Vienna, Austria. You can donate to Simon's food relief project in San Pedro here.

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