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Coping by Creating

A Letter from Cobbie and Dessa Palm, serving in the Philippines

May 2020

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Like many other parts of the world, our little city by the sea has taken an unexpected and abrupt halt as the pandemic spread rapidly across borders and populations. As early as March 15th, various versions of community quarantine had been implemented throughout the Philippines. During the Enhanced Community Quarantine in April, each household in our city of Dumaguete was given one pass that enabled an adult member to leave the house from 9 AM-6 PM to purchase essential goods or medicine two times a week. Later on, this was increased to three times a week. Like many churches in the U.S., our worship services are streamed online, and faculty at the Silliman University are now preparing themselves to hold classes online.

Children and youth below 18, as well as senior citizens with health vulnerabilities, are prohibited from leaving their homes unless they are “frontliners” or are engaged in essential services. Since they are deprived of mobility and social interaction in the usual ways, this time has heightened levels of stress and restlessness for many.

Our work with the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) has faced painful setbacks because of the health protocols and prohibitions. Just about this time in April and May begins the summer season for the Philippines. It would have been a vibrant time when YATTA would be abuzz organizing creative workshops, art camps for children and youth, and community performances. One of our church partners in the neighboring island of Bohol had, for months, been arranging for us to come to their communities to facilitate a theater workshop for their children and youth. A planned art and life skills camp for children in difficult circumstances would have gathered about fifty children in a 4-day experience combining games, creative activities, team-building, healthy meals, and spiritual reflection. Though we understand the necessity of a lockdown, it also feels that we have been robbed of a few months, and knowing that the reality of canceled events and gatherings is a worldwide phenomenon has indeed been sobering.

Though some of our youth members have moved towards online activities (streaming of movies and other entertainment, online classes, games, etc.), we realized soon enough that issues of equity are evident in access to online resources. Many young people from economically disadvantaged families do not have digital devices. For those who do, internet access at home is not available, and spending money on data consumption on their devices is not a priority under the circumstances. This resource gap has limited options for children and youth in many communities.

Some of the youth members illustrating for the coloring books for children. From left: Justine Dumalogdog, Mellard Manogura, Audrey Gail Teves and Jo Camille Mamac.

But there are other issues concerning children and youth that have surfaced as we face the prospect of extended quarantine. What if homes are not always safe for children? Even before this pandemic, we know too well that child abuse in many forms exists in our communities. With the lockdown, which is compounded by economic paralysis and environmental pressure as the summer heat renders many homes unbearably hot, tempers are quick to flare and can lead to more incidents of violence against children and women.

This situation has inspired our youth to partner with the Philippine Educational Theater Association. Together they will work to remind responsible adults to demonstrate love, respect and positive guidance toward their children. In June, YATTA writer Junsly Kitay’s quarantine-specific scenarios will start airing on the radio.

Another area of engagement that the youth agreed to embark on is to provide some creative and educational outlets for children stuck at home. A PC(USA) church in Mt. Kisco, New York, had initially intended to use certain funds to sponsor an art camp for Filipino children in difficult circumstances. Now the church has agreed to sponsor a children’s kit. This kit, assembled by children here in the Philippines, will include a mask, soap, some healthy biscuits, crayons, pencils, and home-made coloring books lovingly illustrated by some of our youth visual artists. The themes are related to God’s gifts of nature as well as culture (traditional games, emotions, and the rights of a child). The packs will be distributed through local churches that minister to underserved urban poor communities in the city.

This project has given the youth a renewed sense of purpose and focus, an opportunity to serve God’s children in ways that are relevant to the fragile situation, and one that will not compromise their personal as well as public health. This has also been a way for them to deal with their own stress, as shared by Mellard Manogura. “I try to cope with the stress by making art for others. In this way, my fear of the virus spreading throughout the world dissipates. And then I would pray.”

In times like this, we are constantly reminded of how God works in and through our lives in so many creative and transformative ways. In humility and courage, we echo the prayer of Francis of Assisi.

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.”

As many borders continue to brace up, we have never felt more connected with the universal church of Christ. We shelter in place knowing well that we shall continue to pray with and for each other, strengthened by the love of Christ and moved by the Holy Spirit. Thank you for accompanying us through your prayers and generous gifts that continue to enable us to bring God’s love, hope, and joy to children in need. Stay well and safe, everyone.

In God’s grace,

Dessa and Cobbie


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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