“The first thing I noticed was the poverty. I was shocked by it. But then, as we were going through different communities, I realized that these people are actually very hopeful,” says photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani. “They are scared of the virus, but they are also hopeful. They are hopeful that it will disappear and that their faith will save them.”
The acclaimed lensman was recently asked to participate in Project Ugnayan by spotlighting the untold stories of survival, dignity, and hope of the people reached by the fundraising initiative. The 33-year-old Bacani braved densely populated communities with church leaders and volunteers who carefully observed physical distancing and wore masks to adhere to quarantine rules.
She visited Baseco, Smokey Mountain, Parola, and Bicutan and produced a series of stories titled "Kalakal (Trade)," "Dasal (Prayer)," "Damayan (Empathy)," and "Diskarte (Resourcefulness). “The series is about another way of giving that can work and be replicated in different communities. It’s not just about survival. It is also about hope,” Bacani adds. “It is a reminder that we are not alone.”
Scale and reach
Recognizing that hunger is the primary challenge to overcome in an emergency, Ayala Corporation president and COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala—in collaboration with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) and Caritas Manila—kicked off Project Ugnayan, a fund-raising initiative that aims to give relief to the economically vulnerable in a timely, targeted, and dignified manner.
"As soon as the Enhanced Community Quarantine was declared, we became very worried about the implications of the lockdown for the daily wage earners who constitute a significant portion of the Greater Manila Area's population," Zobel says. “We realized that by engaging our friends and business partners in the private sector—including Caritas Manila and the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—we would be able to effectively bridge our people's food needs until the government's assistance programs started full operations.”
Through Caritas Manila and its network of parish priests, volunteers, and barangay captains, Project Ugnayan-Damayan was able to distribute PHP 1,000 grocery vouchers to 1,371,855 families or 6,859,275 individuals in the most challenged communities of the Greater Manila Area. These vouchers were distributed to barangays with nearby grocery stores so that the exchange could be easily facilitated.
Other distribution channels were tapped to reach more individuals. ABS-CBN's Pantawid ng Pag-ibig program reached 639,384 families or 3,196,920 people through food packs delivered through local government units. "Ugnayan was a way for large companies to come together and create a solution to the problem of hunger," says ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak. "This [project] was important to us because we wanted, and needed, to show that large private companies care about people."
ADB and the government's Bayan, Bayanihan program delivered food packages to 111,762 families or 558,810 people through the Philippine Army and DSWD.
Jollibee's FoodAID program also delivered ready-to-cook chicken to low-income families from its commissary through a network composed of Don Bosco, Caritas Manila, and the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilya ng Pantawid. They served 420,800 families or 2,104,400 as of April 30. "When we work closely together as a community, we are stronger together in the fight against COVID-19," shares Jollibee Foods Corporation founder and CEO Tony Tan Caktiong. "With the collective effort from different sectors, Project Ugnayan has not only extended help to the most affected families, but has also provided them with hope that during unprecedented times such as this, tulong-tulong tayo."
Pockets of kindness
According to Guillermo Luz, Chief Resilience Officer of PDRF, Project Ugnayan, through its various distribution channels, had reached 2,543,881 families or 12,719,405 individuals as of April 30.
Meanwhile, Father Anton Pascual, the head of Caritas Manila, emphasized that Project Ugnayan is the perfect opportunity to spread hope and revive people's faith. "To be in touch with the poor is crucial for authenticity and for ensuring you have the right impact," he says. "I hope that this pandemic will make us better Filipinos."
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Bacani says that Project Ugnayan is about the importance of collaboration between the private sector, the church, government, and the people. "It is about human resilience––that, despite what we are going through, we are willing to risk our lives to bring joy and relief to those in need,” she says. “We need to look deeper, to understand each other more, and appreciate moments of tenderness around us."
The photographer wishes that those who will see her photos will see the hope reflected from her subjects. “Whatever is happening, I want people to see that there are a lot of pockets of kindness happening around us,” Bacani says. “And of course, if they can do something for other people, why not."
To see Xyza’s photo series and to know more about the initiative, visit ProjectUgnayan.org.