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To the last, the least, and the lost: Lasallian community organizes COVID-19 relief efforts

In times of crisis, the poor tend to be impacted the most across the socioeconomic spectrum. Access to food, shelter, and safety—already challenges in pre-pandemic circumstances—grew more difficult in the past two months as quarantine measures were imposed. 

Government assistance was relayed through the Social Amelioration Program, the first tranche of which was worth P100-billion alone. Yet, even as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported that P99.1-billion had already been disbursed to beneficiaries by May’s end, setbacks and delays—including two deadline extensions—left many indigent families still in dire straits.

“We’ve seen that as the quarantine period extends, the problem that we’ve been facing is the problem of hunger,” Keane Palatino, International Coordinator for Young Lasallians in Rome, Italy, tells The LaSallian. Having left Rome due to the pandemic, he has found himself helming De La Salle Philippines’ (DLSP) KadaUno initiative, a collaborative effort between Lasallian schools and partner institutions to alleviate hunger, homelessness, and destitution among those hard hit by the crisis.

Place of refuge

The onset of quarantine measures in mid-March heralded stay-at-home orders and curfews across Luzon. Those without a permanent residence, however, already facing the COVID-19 threat, also faced threats of arrest as lockdown violators.

St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation Inc. (AJKF) was one of the organizations that responded to the matter. As a community-based foundation, AJKF envisions “holistic healing and [a] sense of completion” for their beneficiaries. Its flagship program for the homeless, called KainAralLIgonaNGumAyos (KALINGA), incorporates three stages: self-care basics, education, and livelihood projects and training. 

Before the pandemic, the KALINGA program fostered an average of 700 street dwellers a week in their center in Tayuman, Manila. As the need escalated, however, the foundation soon found partners in DLSP, DLSU, and other institutions.

Vice President for Lasallian Mission (VPLM) Fritzie de Vera shares how the University’s Manila campus became a shelter for people without a home. The partnership began with AJKF approaching DLSP for help; DLSP, in turn, tapped the University to open its facilities to accommodate the homeless as guests in the Enrique M. Razon Sports Center. 

“What was immediate was we [needed] to [prepare] the space. Razon provides a wide space for them, [with] access to toilets and showers,” explains de Vera, mentioning that her office had to assess whether the space the University could provide would be enough for 70 to 80 individuals while implementing physical distancing protocols.

With the campus empty of students, Enrique M. Razon Sports Center has been housing 71 guests under AJKF’s program as of May 21. Donations, both in-kind and cash, help support the guests’ needs, such as food, toiletries, and other necessities. 

Currently, there are seven shelters operating under KALINGA: the original center in Tayuman, Espiritu Santo Parochial School, Paco Catholic School, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, St. Scholastica’s College, Malate Catholic School, and the shelter in Razon, all managed by Divine Word Missionaries.

The Office of the VPLM (OVPLM), apart from providing volunteers for the facility, supports the program by publicizing calls for funding and donations for food and other necessities, as well as by keeping track of the relief received. 

According to Carmel Elaine Canasa, Executive Officer of the OVPLM, the initiative has already gathered P9.9-million worth of cash donations as of May 20. Donors have also continued to send in-kind donations to Razon, which serves as the drop-off center for these items for all the shelters administered by AJKF.

Isang Libo, KadaUno

As the reach of the Lasallian community’s efforts expanded, the KadaUno initiative emerged to coordinate charitable activities, which now also encompasses the KALINGA program. 

With P1,000—Isang Libo—the project aims to help feed a family of five—KadaUno—for a week. While the call may be for a thousand pesos from any Lasallian, Palatino explains that “the core philosophy of Kada-Uno is what one can give, as little as it may be.” The initiative’s expanded network, which includes several La Salle schools, brings in “overwhelming support”, he says. As of May 24, the initiative has received over P4-million in cash donations. 

The KadaUno volunteers are currently stationed in the DLSP office in La Salle Green Hills (LSGH). In choosing a beneficiary, Palatino says that they prioritize “the last, the lost, and the least”—in this case, communities and hospitals who have not received or could not receive sufficient relief goods or equipment, and those who have not been reached by government aid. 

Following all administrative and health protocols is a top priority, guarantees Palatino, “or else our operations will [become] defective”. He admits, however, that implementing health standards proved to be a challenge.

“We constantly have to remind ourselves also that we have to disinfect, decontaminate, and distance ourselves…You know, all those minor things that you don’t consider in normal situations,” he elaborates.

To avoid inconveniences, securing permits and communicating with local officials are critical requisites. “I think what we really fought for was securing a DSWD solicitation permit,” he says. “We’re accredited by the DSWD for the efforts [that] we’re doing in [regard] to getting donations…We make sure that we contact the government or the parish [that] we’ll go to, because we don’t want to have trouble distributing when it’s not allowed to distribute.”

Palatino also assures that cash donations, once received, are spent on goods as soon as possible. “‘Di pwedeng patuluginyung pera kasi ang daming needs now. The longer you let the money stay with you, it’s [help not] given,” he says.

(You cannot let the money stay idle because there are so many needs now.)

Acts of generosity can come even from humbler walks of life, says Palatino, who recalled receiving a donation in person from a contractual employee from LSGH. “He (the employee) told me there are a group of contractual employees in the maintenance area who are pulling their funds [together to donate], and they don’t even have online banking, that’s why they pass on the cash,” he narrates.

Hand-in-hand

With the effects of the pandemic still likely to linger in the near future, de Vera affirms that the University will continue to take part in relief operations and donation drives through its involvement in the Kada-Uno initiative. 

Other activities conducted under KadaUno include KadaUno Lasalyano—a fundraiser concert held online last May 24 that featured performers from different La Salle schools—and opening the Manila campus to accommodate health workers from Ospital ng Maynila and the Philippine General Hospital. 

According to de Vera, the network of KadaUno projects will go on as long as there is a need from the vulnerable sectors in society. “In this time of crisis, you can’t plan long term,” expresses Palatino, “you have to adjust to what’s real and what’s now.” 

Palatino has a grander vision in mind, as he expounds, “The hope in the future is, when we talk about KadaUno, it will be a national movement—perhaps with young people committed to this cause of eradicating the problem of hunger and poverty.”

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