By my count, as I write this, it has been exactly 350 days since life was normal.
6:30 AM, Manila Time, sometime during the 200th day of quarantine. I roll out of bed, taking the covers with me, as I go downstairs to make a cup of coffee. I go back to my room, sit in front of my desk, and turn on my laptop. The familiar soothing blue of the Zoom logo greets me, by then, like an old friend.
One by one, my classmates’ faces pop up on screen. One of them catches my eye. Her camera is shaky; the connection is spotty. Just as quickly as she had appeared, she disappears, the list of participants dropping by one.
The professor launches into the lecture. We move on like half the class isn’t missing.
A month or so later, the blaring ringing of my alarm clock wakes me up. 9 AM. I reach for my phone to turn the sound off, but the news headlines catch my eye. ‘Philippine students climb roofs and mountains to go to online class,’ one of them blares. ‘Millions of students left behind as distance learning begins,’ another article declares.
Metro Manila has always seemed to me to a city of contrasts. Here, poverty exists side by side with dizzying wealth and luxury. But never before have the lines in the sand been so clearly drawn until this pandemic. Millions have lost their jobs. Thousands are dead from the virus. Thousands more have been left homeless.
Against the backdrop of a year that has been devastating for everyone, most of all the marginalized sectors of society, how can we expect the children of the poor to keep up?
It is ironic. Education was the original ‘great equalizer’. They said the same of this pandemic. But today, inequality has never been more rampant.
In this ‘new normal’, our lives have been lived mostly behind a screen. Safety during this pandemic has meant that we talk to friends through our phones, watch the world pass by through car windows, and pay for groceries through a Plexiglass screen.
For the past year, the keyword to safety has been ‘distance’. Social distancing. Distance learning. Distancing ourselves from social issues and current events is almost too easy nowadays. Stuck in quarantine, if we turn our phones off, it would be so easy to not know anything about what’s going on in the world.
But if we are to survive this pandemic, we need to stand together. We are a global family. To quote the Dalai Lama, “We are all basically the same human beings.” This pandemic – and all the pandemics and plagues that have come before – prey on the very thing that has gotten humanity so far. We have created thousands of years of culture and art and sheer beauty precisely because we, as a species, banded together. Our instinct is to reach out, to cluster, to form connections.
Every human being is a person full of potential. But in a world where we turn our backs on the very solidarity that has gotten us to where we are now, in a world where education is not given equally, in a world where poverty remains a near-unbreakable cycle, and in a world where the underprivileged are pushed to the fringes of society, millions of young people – not only in Manila, but all around the world – are being robbed of the chance to reach that potential. I think of my classmates, eager to learn, but not being given the chance to, staring at a blank screen in desperation and frustration.
For the past year, we have watched the world through a screen. Yet, still, despite it all, we have found ways to reach out. Not all hope is lost. When I look back on the devastation of the past year, I also remember the incredible heights to which the human spirit can soar: the fundraisers, the donations drives, the prayers, the songs … Even through screens, even apart, we have found ways to reach out.
When this pandemic is over, when we start picking up the pieces of a devastated and grieving world, we must make sure that we rebuild it to be better and kinder: a new world in which no one, rich or poor, is left behind.
Published: March 12, 2021
This piece is written by Karen David, a current Program Development Intern for World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific. She is also presently a member of the WYA Philippine National Committee.
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