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Standing together: Reaching out to Lasallians left in Taft

As the local COVID-19 outbreak began to escalate last March, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno initially ordered a one-week class suspension in hopes of controlling the spread of the disease. Students and other members of the Lasallian community who live within the vicinity of DLSU were left with no choice but to pack up and return home. A few days later, on March 12, Metro Manila was placed under quarantine.

But this left others unable to return to their homes or provinces due to rigid mobility restrictions imposed in what was eventually formalized as the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). The ECQ, which was originally set to end on April 12, was later extended until May 15 as mandated by government authorities. A two-week modified ECQ followed, beginning on May 16.

To help Lasallians who have remained in Taft Ave., the University Student Government (USG), together with the Office of Student Affairs, launched TaftLife: Lasallian Online Community, a Facebook group for students and faculty to communicate their concerns. Alongside the initiative, the Office of Counseling and Career Services (OCCS) continues to offer mental health support through its telemental health services.

Difficulties faced

Many Lasallians who were unable to leave their dormitories and apartments had to face the pandemic alone as face-to-face classes shifted to online learning amid quarantine measures. Further, even as the term came to an end, quarantine guidelines remained restrictive over movement, disallowing non-essential travel.

Opting to stay in Taft Ave. rather than going home, Christiana Santiago (I, BS-BIO) admits that online learning puts an “added layer of difficulty” to living alone and fending for oneself during the crisis, which has proven to be a mentally and psychologically strenuous task. “Being alone during this pandemic definitely induced paranoia and panic. I am worried about my parents overseas who are also at risk,” she shares.

To keep herself company, Santiago often checks up on her blockmate who had similarly stayed in Taft. “I am able to cope with the challenges through staying in touch with my loved ones and keeping myself occupied with leisure activities I enjoy,” she adds.

Even getting food and drinking water has become a challenge, says Andrea* (I, BS-BIO), as queuing to enter the supermarket now takes up one to two hours.

Instances of panic buying aggravates Andrea’s worries, as she relays that basic necessities are usually out of stock. “If ever I get lucky and go [when] not many people are inside, the basic necessities like bread, vegetables, and [other items] are usually out of stock. Moreover, most water stations are closed, leaving me with no choice but to opt for the expensive distilled water you could buy at the supermarket,” she expounds.

Additionally, attending to laundry is among the problems that Andrea has faced since the ECQ started, given that most nearby laundry services had closed. “I can only wash a few clothes [at a time] since the space here in the [condominium room] is limited,” she narrates.

Andrea also admits that being alone away from her family has taken a toll on her mental and emotional health—with her family’s situation overseas and local events aggravating her worries. “Our top priority during this quarantine period should be our physical, mental, and emotional health,” she tells The LaSallian.

A look into TaftLife

With many students and faculty still residing in the vicinity of the University, TaftLife: Lasallian Online Community was launched to serve as an online platform for Taft-based Lasallians to communicate with each other, akin to a support group. Members share available information about the area, such as food service options, guidelines on obtaining a quarantine pass, and open stores to shop for necessities.

“Spiritual activities, social action initiatives, kumustahans, and information on basic needs and procedures were posted on the page,” shares Ronin Leviste, USG Vice President for External Affairs. USG Vice President for Internal Affairs Jolson Cruz says that the group’s members “respond to those in difficult circumstances by following up with the concerns raised to us (USG)” through their online surveys.

Andrea lauds the initiative, describing its usefulness for students still remaining around Taft Ave. “[It] aims to update us students currently in Taft regarding the COVID-19 situation, as well as raise our concerns and problems we are experiencing here in Taft during this quarantine period,” she adds.

Although having an online community offers some relief, students still face harsh realities of being in isolation. “Those who are away from family may have a more difficult time coping because of the literal [physical] distance from them,” acknowledges Leviste.

“[For] students who are there within the vicinity of DLSU, some of them really raise concerns about connecting with the family [and] have thoughts naPaano na ako?”; “Parents ko, hindi makapagpadala ng pera’ to support their needs,” OCCS Director Elaine Marie Aranda relays.

(“What will happen to me? My parents cannot send money.”)

No health without mental health’

To help students cope with mental health concerns, the OCCS scrambled to keep its lines open. Last March 19, the USG released an advisory on their Facebook page stating that the office would continue to provide counseling sessions through mobile and online means for students seeking help.

Aranda reports that the office has been receiving a considerable amount of calls and messages from students everyday. “The level of distress is really high,” Aranda describes, noting that students’ worries are being fueled by several crucial factors, including pressures concerning academic requirements and dealing with “idle moments” that allow “negative thoughts” to surface.

On the online completion of academic requirements being “another stressor” amid the pandemic, Aranda discusses, “Because nagsabaysabay lahat, jam-packed, tumaas talaga yung stress ng mga students.” Additionally, the OCCS has been monitoring students’ concerns regarding mental health, arising from the “fears [and] anxieties” over the COVID-19 situation.

(Having to deal with several concerns simultaneously, the students’ stress levels have heightened.)

Aranda strongly recommends self-care activities, including yoga, deep breathing exercises, and physical exercise, to help oneself cope with the circumstances.

“When you engage yourself in mindfulness, you are allowing yourself to be totally aware of what is happening within you and in your environment. You can label emotions and frustrating events while keeping calm,” she explains. Additionally, practicing gratefulness and writing down thoughts on a journal can help cultivate mindfulness, Aranda says.

Other offices have also offered a helping hand. The Department of Psychology, in partnership with the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department, established Telepsychology for the Lasallian Community: Responding to COVID-19 to provide online counseling and psychoeducational materials geared toward students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as health workers from De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute and other adopted hospitals.

“With increased help-seeking behavior among students, the commitment to feel better is there because [it is at] that point where connection and help is established,” Aranda proclaims, encouraging students to reach out for help.

With quarantine measures possibly being stepped down or strengthened in the coming weeks, the USG will continue providing support through the Facebook group. Cruz states that they have “requested for additional tips and guidelines from the Health Services Office” to further strengthen their efforts to help TaftLife’s members. “We are constantly growing as a community, and we are exploring more ways on how we can follow through with our initial goal,” he affirms.

*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.

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