Through My Lens

"Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry..." -Pope Francis


by Sunhee Kim

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Sunhee Kim, a Columban lay missionary from South Korea, shares her reflection on the exacerbation of hunger and poverty amidst Covid19. While others focus their worries against contracting the virus, a lot of people are in distress searching for food; food as their priority, the threat of Covid19 as secondary.

As a precautionary measure to limit the spread of Covid19 in the Philippines, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon was set last March 17. Most establishments have stopped their operations except those that provide basic necessities, and essential services. People’s movements are greatly restricted especially since curfew, that I had only seen in tv dramas, has been imposed. I was then forced to stay home.  The day before, I had taken a rest at the Columban Lay Mission (CLM) house and had celebrated the Feast day of St. Patrick in Singalong. Looking back, it felt like a dream.

I had no sense of reality in the first few days of my first ever community quarantine life. I kept imagining what would have happened if I had stayed at the CLM house. Although, I enjoyed a kind of quietness I rarely experience in Manila, and despite all the things I had planned to do during this unexpected free time, the reality was not as nice or comfortable especially as the ECQ was extended.

It broke my heart to think that even more people suffer from hunger and poverty, especially the urban poor who have lost their means of livelihood and had to be sent home due to the ECQ. Some of them took to the streets and demanded financial assistance from the government. Sadly, they were arrested even though they were hungry and only asking for food and urgent help.

It is understandable for the government to take sterner measures to prevent the further spread of the disease. On the other hand, I would like to ask, “What is more important than human dignity and human rights for survival?” I thought about the people who are having a hard time in the midst of the ECQ: the jeepney and tricycle drivers, the peddlers on the streets, the day workers and the irregular workers. I know them, because they are those whom I regularly meet in my mission area.

The “Light the Life (LTL)” candle project which I have been managing in the recent years was also affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.  As a result of the ECQ, the eight mothers who work in the project had to stay at home without income. LTL is a small livelihood project and is not registered with the government, so the mothers were not qualified for the Covid-19 cash aid of the Department of Labor and Employment. These mothers are the breadwinners of their families since their husbands are non-standard employees working as construction workers. Because of the pandemic, they don’t even have money to buy milk for their children.  One mother has to undergo dialysis three times a week. They do receive relief packs from the government, but these are not distributed often. The help provided can only wet their lips, but not quench their thirst.

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This is not just a problem in the Philippines. My family in South Korea is facing the same difficulties. They are working, yet their income has considerably decreased. It is not easy to witness people around me in a trying situation, especially those who are beloved family members. I feel sorry that I can’t do anything for them.  I am just grateful they are well and safe when the virus first broke out in South Korea.

Like everything, the community quarantine has its own set of pros and cons. For instance, I can still attend mass and liturgies every day if I wish, through various channels during this time. This is something which I had always thought of but could not practice before.  Inspired by one priest’s idea, I posted photos of people who are in my prayer intention on my wall. When I offer the sign of peace to them during Mass, it brought me serenity of mind as well. It is an indescribably blessed experience.

A number of socio-economic activities have slowly resumed since the general community quarantine was implemented. As I prepare to return to my ministry with the new normal, I cannot help but have concerns about what would happen.  I may have to embrace something I have never experienced before, whether I like it or not. It may take time but I know weaknesses. I pray to the Lord with faith, that he may he take my fears and worries away. May he comfort me and give me the courage to face the difficulties before me.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Columban mission partners and individual benefactors for their generous support to the Columban mission. The mothers in the Light the Life candle project was able to receive emergency assistance because of their generosity. It was a great comfort to them and gave them room to breathe in these times of trouble. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.