In a small town in the Southern Philippines, a group of young people are quietly making a difference.
The room was filled with the soft thumping sounds of sewing machines. And behind every machine is a young woman or man, hunched over mounds of fabric.
These youth are volunteering to produce face masks for COVID-19 front liners in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.
They are students of the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a government program which helps out-of-school youth continue their education regardless of their personal life circumstances.
Since Plan International believes in the power of inclusive education, we are supporting the ALS program. It is especially helpful for Filipinos who cannot physically go to school on a daily basis — for various reasons: illnesses or disability, financial problems, the need to work, the need to take care of children, or living too faraway from schools.
These ALS students are trained by Plan International’s Reach Mindanao Project — under our Youth Economic Empowerment Program — which support skills development, gender equality, and equal access to education.
“We volunteered to sew face masks for our front liners because stocks are running out,” said Racma Unting, an ALS teacher who initiated the activity together with her students.
“Healthcare workers and other front liners are putting their own lives at risk for the sake of our community,” Unting continued. “That’s why we wanted to help them in any way possible.”
As of April, these youth volunteers have produced thousands of face masks, all to be donated to front liners.
On some days, entrepreneurs visit the volunteers, asking them to work for them instead. “You can make more money if you work for me, selling these face masks for a good price,” the volunteers were told.
But the volunteers always refused.
“We never accepted the offer because we wanted to help the front liners even in our own small ways,” said Morsid, a young volunteer.
“In times of crisis, it’s more important to help one another than to make profits,” he added.
This initiative was supported by the local government as well.
Amid all the challenges we are currently facing, it feels great to see young people united in our collective fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
In these trying times, we should not only look after ourselves and our loved ones, but also our entire community and the people around us.
Just remember that every small act of kindness goes a long way.
Let us not lose our faith in humanity. Let us not lose hope.
*** Lady Nissa Agustin is a community development facilitator for the Reach Mindanao Project. Funded by Reach Out To Asia (ROTA), the project empowers the youth of Maguindanao, ages 14 to 25, through education.