Many people live without social safety nets and nothing is worse than a crisis that shakes their already precarious condition.

Right now, the novel coronavirus makes everybody feel scared and uncertain. But in spite of these feelings, many youth Filipinos of different socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicity responded to the challenge to contribute in addressing this global pandemic. One youth sector based in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro rose up to meet the challenge.

The Keep Hope Alive (KHA), organized a fundraising and relief operation called AWATI Mindoro: Farmers to Families Initiative (FFI). Awati is a Mangyan term for “tulong” or help. The project is undertaken in collaboration with thirty (30) schools and youth organizations in the province of Oriental Mindoro.

Awati Mindoro is a community-based relief effort to connect local farmers to families in need. People can donate or buy an Awati Pack from the farmers to provide households with fresh harvest vegetables and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to frontliners. They can also exchange their farm produce or be a volunteer with KHA and other youth organizations.

Through FFI, farmers are able to market their fresh produce in the community and thereby enabling the families to eat well-balanced meals. The frontliners are also helped and thanked through simple acts of gratitude.

KHA also tapped the services of BAYƏ, its social enterprise for rural and IP women, to produce cloth facemasks for the frontliners and other essential workers. The masks are distributed to uniformed personnel, barangay employees, public utility workers and market vendors who provide necessary services during this time of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Another project undertaken by KHA in collaboration with different organizations and individuals is the distribution of immune boosters to frontliners and children. Hundreds of boxes of Calcium Carbonate supplements and Ready-to-Use Supplementary Foods were handed out to the frontliners from Puerto Galera, Victoria, Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro Provincial Hospital (Calapan City) and Oriental Mindoro South District Hospital (Roxas).

As of date, KHA has delivered two hundred seven (207) packs of fresh harvest vegetables and AWATI rice packs from the farmers to low-income families including displaced workers and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and connected with about forty five (45) farmers and fisher folks. It has also served around one thousand (1,000) frontliners and essential workers. With the strict implementation of the ECQ, KHA works closely with the Local Government Units and the Sangguniang Barangays in facilitating the relief operations.

The overwhelming support received from people from different walks of life further motivates and inspires KHA in reaching out to those who are in need. In these trying times, every little help matters. Keep Hope Alive sends a message of hope that we are not alone.

The KHA was a 2018 Search for Outstanding Volunteer national awardee. It promotes active volunteerism and mobilizes the youth to provide services to those who are marginalized in the community, especially the Indigenous People (IP). Under the leadership of its founder and Chairperson Mr. Shernan Gamol, KHA seeks to contribute to sustainable development and foster youth empowerment through volunteerism and community engagement programs.

The author is currently the Program Officer, Volunteerism for Development Communication and Advocacy Program, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.

(Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering in response to COVID-19).