Light the Life project
Working in Uncertain Times

By SunHee Kim (Sunny)

As a precautionary measure to limit the spread of Covid19 in the Philippines, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was set March 17, 2020. Most establishments had stopped their operations except those that provide basic necessities and essential services. People’s movements were greatly restricted.

Light the Life program participant at work
Light the Life program participant

The “Light the Life” (LTL) livelihood project was also affected by the COVID19 pandemic. As a result of the ECQ, our seven mothers who work in the project had to stay at home without income. LTL is a small, livelihood project and is not registered with the government, so the mothers were not qualified for the Covid19 cash aid of the Department of Labor and Employment.

These mothers are the breadwinners of their families since their husbands are non-standard employees working as construction workers and in other similar jobs. They did receive relief packs from the government, but these were not distributed often. The help provided could wet their lips but not quench their thirst. Out of compassion, I proposed helping them to the Columban Society, and thankfully it was approved. The women were able to receive food subsidies for ten months. They were only small amounts, but it was absolutely a big comfort for them.

The work resumed after the quarantine regulation was eased a bit, but the project was faced with cruel reality because we had absolutely no orders from our customers. For reference, our customers come from churches, religious organizations, and individual clients. At this difficult time of the pandemic, customers have been focused on buying basic essentials, the church was still closed, and gatherings in the church were prohibited.

Although the project has been confronted with financial crisis, I and a project manager decided to resume our work because we cannot let the mothers’ difficulties in this trying time pass over in silence. Unfortunately, we had to cut down the mothers working days to two times a week, but it is enough for them to guarantee at least some money to buy food for their families.

A year after the pandemic/ECQ, we still only survive with a few deliveries once or twice a month. The mothers keep making candles to stockpile for rush orders that may come at any time. We always want to be ready to deliver candles. Any opportunities will not be lost.

Along with this, we have tried to find ways to increase our income. Through a series of discussions with the mothers, we agreed to expand our products. They chose items by themselves: dishwashing liquid soap and peanut butter. They make the products and sell it to their neighbors. Secondly, online businesses have been emerging in the Philippines since the quarantine was implemented. We are planning to meet the challenge in this area in line with the trend. Of course, it is not easy for us. Not only do we have limitations because we are a small business that is not registered, but also we are not familiar with these things relating to online/IT. We do it longterm, step by step.

The project manager said the mothers are worried about “lockdown” which is implemented by the government whenever according to the situation of COVID19; most recently, we were in the ECQ during Holy Week and Easter season. The mothers are directly affected by these restrictions, especially their financial situation. Despite all these difficulties, the mothers unanimously express their gratitude to God that their beloved family members are safe and healthy.

We have experienced loads of changes through the pandemic, and I think living in uncertainty is the biggest and the hardest part for us. We all hope and pray that this pandemic will come to the end, that everything will come back to normal again.

Columban lay missionary SunHee Kim (Sunny) lives and works in the Philippines.