Far away in Europe, frontliner Aldrin Licayan is reaching out to kids and young students in the Philippines who are missing school because of the lack of tools essential to distant learning.
The Filipino nurse had learned that the Department of Education (DepEd) now requires schools to conduct classes using the Internet.
He understood that the decision to shift from traditional classrooms to online teaching was to ensure the safety of students and school personnel during the pandemic.
However, he also learned that this shift presented a dilemma to students without the money for the new tools.
Aldrin learned about the problem firsthand through his vlog on YouTube, which he runs as a hobby.
Suddenly, strangers asking for help to purchase tablets were filling up the comments section of his vlog.
Nurse Aldrin, responding to Philippine Entertainment Portal (PEP.ph), wrote via Facebook Messenger, “Nung una hindi ko siya iniisip kasi may mga problema rin ako.
“Pero dumami sila nang dumami pati iyong mga nakakausap kong mga bata.
“Naapektuhan talaga ako sa mga stories nila. Nagbalik sa akin iyong memories ko nung bata ako. Wala kasi akong magulang, e.
“Lumaki ako sa lola and nagpaaral sa akin tita ko 'tsaka lolo ko, and hindi naman lahat naibibigay sa akin kaya alam ko iyong feeling.”
Heeding the call
Aldrin, 27, said he never imagined he could run a fund-raising campaign overseas.
But he did, and admirably so—given that he’s busy enough with his daily routine at the operating room of the Letterkenny University Hospital in Donegal, Ireland.
He started a GoFundMe project he calls “Distance Learning Tablets for Filipino Youth.”
GoFundMe is an online crowdfunding platform used by groups or individuals worldwide to raise money for various charity projects and other causes.
Aldrin said, "Nagsimula lang ako sa local community dito ng mga Pilipino 'tsaka sa mga friends ko."
To his surprise, he said his initial projection of 10 tablets remarkably grew to 20 units, as financial support poured in from kind-hearted strangers who heard about his initiative.
He wrote exuberantly, "Grabe iyong acceptance 'tsaka magugulat ka kasi may mga unexpected na tao na tutulong and maniniwala sa iyo."
According to Aldrin, the first wave of donations amounting to close to PHP70,000 bought 20 tablets specific to the requirements of DepEd.
He said, "Nakapagbigay tayo sa Iligan, Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Quezon Province, at marami pang iba.
"Sa isang province minsan lima, minsan dalawa, minsan isa lang—so, halo-halo talaga."
The initial success of the project has encouraged Aldrin to continue with his fund-raising drive and come up with a better plan.
He related, "Nasa second wave na tayo ng fundraising campaign. Mas motivated ako. And bumuo din ako ng small team na susuporta.
"We're also using Kumu app para makapag-raise pa ng funds. Filipino-made iyong app.
"And sobrang nakakatuwa siya to inspire more people to help and at the same time ma-showcase din iyong talent ng mga tao."
Not letting up
Aldrin was a nurse at the VRP Medical Center in Mandaluyong for about two years before relocating to Ireland in 2017.
With COVID-19 continuing with unabated force, Aldrin is one of the many medical workers at constant risk of getting infected from exposure to patients they treat.
He said, "Kahit hindi masyadong malakas iyong COVID dito sa Ireland, marami kaming aerosol-generating procedures [AGPs] that make us more susceptible in case may COVID iyong patient."
To explain the severity of the AGPs that Aldrin mentioned, let it be noted that these medical procedures have been the cause of many deaths among doctors and healthworkers treating COVID patients over the world, including the Philippines.
According to a study of the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthologists released on April 5, 2020, AGPs generate higher concentrations of airborne particles or respiratory droplets than are generated by coughing, sneezing, talking, or breathing.
These occupational hazards include open suctioning of airways, sputum induction, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, endotracheal intubation, and extubation.
Aldrin said, "So lagi kaming naka N95 [mask] ng eight hours or 12 hours, minsan more than 12 hours—hectic talaga ‘yong shifting namin dito sa ospital.
"'Tapos siyempre madalas I feel alone here and nahu-homesick ako. Pero kinakaya naman.
“Mas nangingibaw iyong pagpapasalamat natin na may trabaho pa tayo, na nakakakain pa tayo. 'Tsaka may napapadala pa tayo sa Pilipinas—iyan iyong madalas kong ipinagpapasalamat.”
Juggling demanding hospital work and a fundraising drive is no easy task.
But Aldrin says he finds strength and comfort in knowing that a number of kids without means will have access to education.
He told PEP. ph, “Siguro yong pinaka-touching na moment iyong nag-send sa akin ng video, iyong unang nabigyan.
“And iyong nagsabi din sa ‘kin na nade-depress na siya kasi wala silang kakayanan na bumili ng tablet.
“Nag-send siya sa akin ng video, basang-basa iyong t-shirt niya ng luha ‘tapos magang-maga iyong mata niya.
“Meron siyang cleft lip pero clear na clear iyong pagkakasabi niya ng, ‘Maraming salamat po kuya Aldrin and sa mga nag-donate.
“Sobrang nakaka-touch iyon kasi ramdam mo ‘yong pagod mo. Pero dun mo nare-realize na all of your tears and sleepless nights are sobrang worth it."
The male nurse added, "Ang priority ko ngayon is work, health and fundraising kasi sobrang sarap makatulong.
“Ang sarap pala nun na kahit nasa gitna tayo ng pandemic nakakatulong tayo, may kakayanan tayo tumulong.
“In these trying times, in this pandemic, sa nangyayari sa mundo, sa bansa natin, we need to continue believing in God.
"And kailangan natin magkaroon ng hope sa puso natin na matatapos din ito."
A true believer, Alvin wrote at the end of his chat with PEP.ph, “Anuman ang mangyari sa atin, Pilipino tayo, e, matatag tayo.”
Salute to Aldrin and all the brave souls in the frontlines fighting COVID-19 and saving lives.