How you can help during the COVID-19 pandemic while social distancing

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Looking to help while you're at home? Here are five community-run initiatives in search of volunteers amid the extended quarantine. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As the novel coronavirus remains in our community, the world is in constant pursuit of what to do next. To those who took on the responsibility of creating solutions, the biggest threat is inaction — along with the daily rise of cases and lack of a steady recovery plan for the country.

However, the question of privilege and access still looms over those unable to step out of safety and help monetarily: Who can afford to help? Who can risk going out? What if I can’t really donate money? Do I have to? How can I help if all I can do is stay home?

These valid questions have called for several communities to circumvent barriers and create platforms that remain sustainable and workable for those who can only help from home, proving that concrete action can come from creative hacking, social solidarity, and some Internet connection.

Poster from BANTAY BAYAN

For citizens wanting to ensure fair governance: Volunteer at Bantay Bayan

When President Rodrigo Duterte announced the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, citizens rallied online for the government to focus on responding to the pandemic through medical solutions instead of a military approach.

To heed this call for transparency and efficient governance, members of GoodGov PH, the youth-led movement, created “Bantay Bayan,” a citizen-watchdog and legal assistance program that monitors responses and actions of all local government units in the Philippines through volunteer reports.

“Our members were worried that the crisis might be used as an excuse for government officials to commit corrupt practices, human rights violations, or political maneuvering,” says Dexter Yang, executive director of GoodGov PH. “We saw the need for citizens to be more vigilant about their government’s actions or inactions.”

Volunteers who sign up for the program are tasked to share their reports via an exclusive Facebook group for the volunteers and survey forms. Data gathered will be presented visually in a map that will be launched soon, together with the platform’s website.

Volunteers may also submit any legal concerns in their communities and forward them to the Bantay Bayan Help Desk, where volunteer lawyers and law students can provide legal assistance.

As of writing, Bantay Bayan has over 900 volunteers nationwide. Anyone with an Internet connection and mobile or computer device can sign up to volunteer, as Bantay Bayan urges citizens to report LGU responses they see on social media. The core team also welcomes graphic designers and individuals with legal or government background to help with the concerns of the volunteers.

Sign up as a volunteer for Bantay Bayan here.


For multilinguals looking to help: Translate infographics with AGHAM

Well before the pandemic hit the country, daily media coverage and reports from health organizations about the virus have been rampant, but with most updates about COVID-19 written in English, it is questionable if the massive reach is effective in itself.

To make knowledge on COVID-19 accessible for every Filipino, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), a nonprofit organization composed of patriotic science and technology advocates, is calling for volunteers capable of translating their printable infographic posters into various Filipino languages.

“We were able to talk to some barangay officials who expressed their dismay at the lack of assistance from the national government, notably on the technical information about the virus,” says Jonallin Yang, educator chairperson of AGHAM.

Created with the independent bookstore Kwago, the output contains general facts and common myths about the virus, and is meant to reach areas frequented by underprivileged communities, such as barangay health centers, wet markets, and sari-sari stores.

“By translating the COVID-19 info-posters in different Philippine languages, we also hope to promote the importance of language in making science truly work for the people, especially during this time of public health crisis,” says Kim Cantillas, member of AGHAM.

As of writing, their posters have been disseminated in more than five provinces and translated into more than ten Filipino languages including Ilokano, Hiligaynon, and Kapampangan.

Sign up as volunteer translator for AGHAM here.


For supporters of our ‘frontliners of information’: Join Protect Our Journalists

On the ground, journalists stand side by side with health workers to keep the public informed. Writer Czyka Tumaliuan, together with photojournalist Jes Aznar, and industrial engineer Mark Tumaliuan, initiated a project that aims to reduce the risk of infection for the “frontliners of information,” as Czyka would call them. With Protect Our Journalists, the goal is to build customized safety kits and continue donating personal protective equipment (PPE) to far-flung areas in the country where journalists are.

As a practitioner himself, Aznar shares that the custom in the newsroom is to avoid hospitals and enclosed spaces where there’s high potential for exposure, even with a full set of PPE.

“For me, a PPE is by no means a license to go out and be as close to possible exposure,” Aznar says. Despite this, he continues to cover and puts himself under a self-imposed quarantine after every assignment. He is currently on his second quarantine.

For frontliners like Aznar, the need for safety equipment is alarming. Currently, Mark has created a system where individuals can volunteer their skills in accounting, designing, and transportation management.

Together with Kwago and Pushpin Visuals, the project also aims to create booklets about best practices for media safety and instructions for safe PPE use.

“We need more community journalists reporting about the situation of people during the lockdown for accurate and hyper-localized information for the public,” says Czyka when asked about the difficulty in risking their lives for the project. “With the prevalence of pandemic myths and false information online, journalism today saves lives… It’s a social responsibility to serve [the public].”

Sign up as a volunteer for #ProtectOurJournalists by joining this group. Volunteer roles can be seen here.


For the more technically inclined: Fact-check with CPU

Computer Professionals Union (CPU), a non-profit organization that advocates for freedom of information, started wondering how information technology and computer professionals can help with the ongoing health crisis in the country.

“While [the government is] coming out with their own statements regarding the implementation of their policies, we wanted to see the ‘ground truth’ from citizens who are experiencing the effects of these policies,” says Mark Joseph Yanto, secretary general of CPU.

Thus, they came up with COVID19PH Report, another platform where citizens can track and report implementation of promised LGU and national policies and programs such as social amelioration funds, health and food provisions, and public transportation.

Volunteers who can verify, collate, and preprocess data are needed for the program. Those more technically inclined may work on programming, mapping, and website development. CPU aims to plot findings geographically and monitor trends or commonalities across the country.

Sign up as a volunteer for COVID19PH Report by sending an email at


For artists hoping to help frontliners: Make #ArtForMedPH

“Artists aren’t frontliners, but we can support frontliners easily,” says Maria Mediarito, an illustrator who participated in the online fundraising campaign #ArtForMedPH initiated by local artists.

Similar to commissioning art, the goal is for the artist to profit from art requests, but this time the money goes straight to hospitals, health centers, or donation drives dedicated to medical frontliners. The proof of donation serves as payment for the artists, with them essentially creating the work for free and on a trust-basis. Volunteer artists like Mediarito have base rates for specific kinds of works while others accept any amount of donation for a basic portrait.

“In these trying times, I see #ArtForMedPH as an opportunity to help rather than an additional work. If these donations can save lives of COVID-19 [patients] and front liners, back pains are just small wounds to endure,” says Bryan Montallana, who also contributed to the campaign.

As of writing, Mediarito has raised over ₱15,000 which went directly to Tondo Medical Center (her choice of beneficiary), and Montallana raised over ₱29,000 which went to local hospitals and organizations.

When asked why she decided to participate, Mediarito credits her self-imposed duty: “If you know you can do something to help, you have the responsibility of acknowledging that. It’s up to you whether or not you want to participate, I’d never look down on an artist who didn’t want to join — we’ve all got our own schedules and lives to live. However, we should always be aware of our individual agency.”

Join the #ArtForMedPH movement by adding your own donation links and mechanics here, or by using the hashtag with a public account.