Unseen Enemies, Unsung Heroes: Who stands on the front lines?

A look into the lives of XU's front liners during the COVID-19 pandemic

Smiles hidden behind masked lips and expressions veiled behind face shields—these are the faces we see in XU. Between our busy schedules in the virtual world and in the real world, we are tucked in our homes safe and sound, yet to those out on the front lines, the hustle continues, and their services remain unsung.

The illustrious doctor

The day has finally come for the renowned Epidemiologist Dr. Gina Itchon to test the theories she has been studying since her master’s in public health from the University of Hong Kong.

Photo by Kenneth Jhon Sanchez

Itchon is proud of what she has accomplished in her service with XU, as a former head of the Research Unit of the School of Medicine, she has left a legacy for the following generations to come. She created a system to make research an integral part of training doctors in the University and she re-established and renamed the Sustainable Sanitation Center to the Center for Global Health .

Although most of her works normally occur online, Itchon found her schedule brimming. Between balancing her time as an Institutional Research Coordinator in Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) and as a faculty member of XU-School of Medicine—her expertise is now much needed since there are only a few Epidemiologists in the country. She is now requested to help City Mayor Oscar Moreno during meetings and show up to interviews. Although the camera-shy doctor admits that she prefers being in the background.

The Jesuit volunteer, loyal to her Ignatian values, continues to serve the community with her proficiency. Itchon concludes, “You have to use your profession to help others, and because I am a public health doctor, it’s very clear on [sic] what I need to do.”

The visionary urban planner

In April of 2020, professor and researcher Engr. Jefferson R. Vallente started preparing his software tools to provide service to the pandemic emergency of the country.

Contributed photo

The program coordinator of the XU-ERC perceived that the social nature of Filipinos could become the source of a rapid spread of COVID-19. With the commitment to serve XU, Vallente offered his service to his colleague and team leader Engr. Dexter S. Lo.

Lo, along with NMMC Medical Officer IV Dr. Gina Itchon, were seeking a way to predict the spread of COVID-19 for the next 12 months. Thus, they came up with the project Web-GRiD: A Decision Support Tool for Local Government Units (LGUs) in COVID-19 Response and Recovery Operations.

Due to the restrictions of on-campus activities, the team found Web-GRiD convenient. Vallente says, “Web-GRiD is a great tool because, in the aspect of risk, we can layer the hazard, the vulnerabilities and the exposure. You can see these details, especially now that they have a relationship in terms of location.”

Vallente commits to serve God by giving back to XU and carrying its name to excellence. He recounts, “What wakes me up in the morning is the part where I get to witness the world as how it is and what I can do to make it better.”

The diligent role model

Due to the pandemic, a new normal was introduced wherein health protocols should be observed and taken seriously. XU Physician Dr. Antonio Aranas believes that the duty of doctors is to educate their patients on the importance of these health protocols.

Photo by Kenneth Jhon Sanchez

When the pandemic started, Aranas started telemedicine, or the practice of caring for patients in which consultation and management are done through online platforms. “Telemedicine is ideal to limit exposure, hence reducing the risk of transmission,” he explains. Although this was the case, Aranas who is also a trained surgeon, adds that there are still cases that cannot be addressed online, such as surgical operations.

For Aranas, being a good example is also important. He strictly complies to the minimum health standards to protect himself and more so, his family and his patients. He also takes inspiration from people who observe health protocols as it reminds him to not take the pandemic lightly.

Being a physician is not only a livelihood for Aranas but more as if it were God’s grace. “I am inspired by the belief that being a doctor is a God-given set of skills and talent, and I have to share what I can regardless of the situation,” Aranas shares.

The conscientious guard

For five years, XU Security Guard Wilmar Bendoy has grown comfortable with the daily life energy of XU—the joy of seeing students zoom along the pedestrian lane in front of the University Church while navigating the cars along the Main Lane.

Photo by Kenneth Jhon Sanchez

He did not mind the 12-hour shift a day, nor the mandatory routine check of vehicles exiting the campus’ Main Gate. Now, everything felt new and strangely quiet for Bendoy.

As a high school graduate, Bendoy wants nothing more but to provide for his family and to continue sending his wife and children to school. With his two children and his beautiful wife in heart and mind, the pillar of the family strives every day. Braving through the COVID-19 pandemic, Bendoy continues to serve XU as one of its hard-working security guards.

When the strict protocols of XU became even more firm, for the meticulous security guard, the new University protocols became the top priority. Herewith, Bendoy reminds everyone in XU to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Bendoy serves as a reminder that being on the frontline is not a walk in the park. It takes one life to sustain another.

The faithful frontliner

The pandemic has emphasized the importance of healthcare workers in our community. While they continue to do their jobs, fear and anxiety can also overwhelm the frontliners who face the uncertainties of the pandemic head on.

Photo by Melvin Villacote

Faith has been the strength and stone for XU School Nurse Mary Grace Santizas. “The pandemic brought me even closer to God,” Santizas says. She never fails to pray for the protection of her family, for those who tested positive for COVID-19. As someone who once worked as a staff nurse in the Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services in the United Arab Emirates, she also prays for the safety of frontliners here and abroad.

As a frontliner, keeping herself healthy, safe, and protected—to be able to serve the people who need her services—is already an achievement in itself. Although work has been challenging to keep up with lately, with prayer and a strict following of protocols, she can overcome any challenge ahead.
Behind every brave face of our frontliners is a story of unyielding faith and motivation. “It’s also my family and my profession that I am always in love with that keeps me going,” Santizas says in addition to her strengthened faith.

The dedicated lady officer

For XU Security Guard Rosale Yañez, appreciating her job is worth more than crediting it as her source of income. Because for her, it also highlights her purpose of giving aid and protection to the University, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Photo by Aira May Plaga

To survive the day, Yañez mirrors her gratitude by offering the best service she can provide to XU. In her nine years of working at the University, she has been continuously grateful. It is not only her personal goals that provides her willingness, for it also includes the trust and obligation that she holds in XU to keep her going.

Yañez shares that being a security guard has been challenging even before the pandemic. With the new normal, it’s not only the ambiance of the school grounds that has changed, but also the imposed health protocols in every corner of the University. Despite the health crisis and other challenges, she remains optimistic, “pasalamat lang jud gihapon ko kay bisan nag-COVID, naa lang gihapon koy trabaho.”
In the face of changes, Yañez continues her service by doing it in double now, assuring that no pandemic can take away her willingness to remain on duty amidst the adversity.

The missionary formator

The prominent director of the XU Student Social Involvement and Advocacy Program (SSIAP), and the man behind #XUTabangLuzon and #XUKontraCOVID19—Nestor Banuag.

Photo by Aira May Plaga

In his 21 years of service in XU, Banuag’s accomplishments as a director and formator are unsurpassed. With his compassion to help others, he is a man of initiative in the community. However, the pandemic had brought him a heap of challenges, especially when their department was significantly affected by the University’s lay off of employees. “As of now ten or six nalang mi ka regular […] but I can still see my peers and this is an added value because makita jud nimo ang passion to serve amidst the limitations,” he shares.

In this time of physical distancing, various platforms are bringing people together through digital donation drives, aiding those who are in need in the country. Banuag’s determination in taking the lead for #XUTabangLuzon has proven how a small-scale initiative could have an enormous impact on others.

From a former Xavier Atenean who mirrors his personal desire in helping others, Banuag’s mission is always rooted in XU’s values and principles.

“My mission is a lifelong process even siguro if mahuman ko sa XU. I still have that mission, that task, and responsibility for the younger generations […] the reason why I’m just enjoying every moment in being always excited sa new things and new learning sa life,” he reiterates.

The meticulous rule regulator

Maintaining the peace and order of the University became her life for the last 13 years. Within these years of service, she never once imagined the possibility of guarding the University from an unseen enemy.

Photo by Melvin Villacote

Being assigned in the main gate, XU Security Guard Jocylyn Apa-ap finds herself fond of meeting different students whom she witnessed come and go. But as the pandemic hit the city, XU was obliged to follow the national order of cutting off face to face classes and shifting to a new means of virtual learning.

As the noise of the University turned quiet, Apa-ap’s job unexpectedly became harder. She shares, “Mas grabi ang hago sa depensa sa virus kaysa mamadlong ug studyante.”

Together with the campus’ emptiness are the adjustments in her job. From imposing the University’s rules and regulations, the city’s health protocols became an added responsibility in her task of being a security guard. With the new normal, her only wish is for others to follow the health protocols, especially that in this time of pandemic, it is not only students who need protection, but them as well.

The imagination mover

While working for the XU Kontra COVID relief operation in March 2020, Engr. Dexter Lo thought of wanting to do something about the COVID-19 situation aside from immediate solutions such as relief operations.

Photo by Amer Mangandog

“There was an urge in my heart to help,” the XU-Engineering Resource Center (XU-ERC) Founding Director says on coming up with the idea. “I was thinking, let us do something more competency-based that is more related to our competency in engineering and medicine and work on data,” he adds. Thus birthing the award-winning project Web-GRiD, which he created along with Itchon and Vallente. The tool does not only track where Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases are rising but also those who are affected. It also looks for vulnerabilities and weaknesses that the LGU can address.For Lo, it is enough that people are using the tool. The Disaster Risk Management Professor adds, “Didto gyud ma-realize ang dream sa teacher. I’m still a teacher no matter what innovation people know me about.” The fact that people are using what he taught is already fulfilling enough, adding that his students inspire him to push through.

So far, Lo and his team has already trained six LGU’s on using their tool. He never thought that what once started as a small idea would eventually come to this. “I have the humility to say that God’s plan is really bigger than our dreams.”C

Levina Eunic Palarca

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