My story as a teacher at the start of the community lockdown in March 2020 is not so much about transitioning to the online platform now that Covid 19 has made it impossible to meet in class face-to-face but more of responding to a felt need I know, being a communications and media teacher, I have the knowledge about and the skills necessary to somehow solve it effectively.
I was born and raised in Barangay Bugo. This lies in the eastern part of Cagayan de Oro City, known to be the city of golden friendship. The barangay (city district) is home to a famous company that processes pineapples, Del Monte. If that would not suffice description, it is also home to jeepney drivers who fang it like they are in some kind of a high. This is their reputation ever since I was a student in high school, which is more or less twenty years ago, and still is up until now that I am a teacher.
Sitting down at home, hearing the clack of the keys of my laptop as I fulfill my college teacher duties double time, especially because I was out of the country for about a month to attend a short course on media campaigns, just does not feel right when I know for a fact that the worries and fears brought by the novel corona virus is so real among the residents of my barangay. I remember one important lesson in my training in conflict-sensitive journalism that says “people are society’s real problem solvers.” That inspired me to march my way up to where the seat of power is and talk with the barangay captain himself. I volunteered, pro bono. And I could tell that he was glad that I did.
With a population of around 17,000, there is so much audience to reach in our barangay. And using rekorida (spreading information through an amplifier on a vehicle) or a regular round of the staff around the area of the barangay seems like an uphill climb in terms of disseminating official information related to Covid-19. It may not be really efficient especially because the news and information at the outbreak of the novel virus are so dynamic. One time, I have seen how taxing it was for the information officer who was shouting at the top of his lungs as people crowded around him inquiring about documents like the required travel pass and health certificate. Obviously, the people were becoming impatient. When the barangay information officer dined in our karenderya (small food store) one time, I initiated a conversation to probe about their use of social media for information dissemination. I find it unfortunate when he appeared somewhat clueless. It was as if I was talking a language different from his. But I understand him. What I do not understand is when local government units do not maximize the use of social media, in all its potential, for the purpose of information dissemination.
People need to be informed, especially in this time of a health crisis. Official information is paramount because it is aid. The right information will help people make the right decisions. And I can understand why many residents in my barangay were disgruntled as evident in their posts on social media and that is because the official information was not communicated to them.
The findings of a case study I have read titled “Does social media transform city government?” (Roengtam, et al, 2017) says that social media is only used as a platform for information dissemination to the public. Although used as such, social media, like Facebook, has not yet affected the internal processes of the local government unit as an organization. Moreover, social media is not adopted as a space for citizen-government interaction.
The findings of the case study cannot be generalized to others but maximizing social media, Facebook in particular, as a platform for information dissemination was exactly what I had in mind when I talked with the barangay captain and his administrator. I found out that the barangay has actually an official Facebook page which has existed for two years already before Covid-19 happened. The barangay administrator, together with another barangay employee younger than him, maintains the page. When I checked the page that day, I found out that there were only around 400 members of the page. Immediately, I thought that the first step of the game plan is to increase the number so that at least more than half of the total population of the barangay would be reached with the official information related to Covid-19.
To do that, I applied the lessons I learned from the short course on media campaigns for development and social change which I have attended three weeks before the start of the lockdown. I was put to the test. I ran a campaign which I called “Stay Home, Make Memories.” The aim is to amplify the message of the protocol to stay home to reduce the risk of being infected with the virus in a manner that appeals to our Filipino culture of being family-oriented.
In the one-minute video that I produced for this campaign, public school teachers – both retired and those who are still in service – from our barangay were asked to share their fondest memories when they were at home with their immediate family. From the media campaign course I have attended, I have learned that we listen more to people who are like us in a lot of ways rather than to experts who will most likely talk in a language that we might not totally understand. The emotional proximity between target audience and people like them is greater than between target audience and experts. And emotions, not logic, is a great driver of our behavior and decisions.
The bigger picture of the campaign is to mitigate conflict and misunderstanding by communicating to the residents of Bugo official information straight from the horse’s mouth. With that, I think that the campaign was effective because for one, the number of members has ballooned to 8,770 as of this writing. This is almost half of the population and is a far cry from 400 two years ago. Noticeably, the barangay captain has also made the platform as his means of talking to the residents via Live videos. He shows up online almost every day, every week and talks about updates in relation to Covid19. This has increased the engagement between the local government unit of Bugo and its constituents as there is a real-time exchange of messages between the two parties. I cannot help but think that this is reminiscent to New Zealand’s prime minister considered to be one of the most effective leaders during this time of the global pandemic. Traffic to the official Facebook page of the barangay was also on its peak especially during those times when the Department of Social Welfare and Development implemented its Social Amelioration Program. The page became the go-to platform of the residents in Bugo to check the list of names of beneficiaries of the program. Before that, the official page was filled with advisories and updates specifically on the curfew, on the barangay exit pass, and on the number of persons who were being monitored and investigated. I volunteered to do this.
Now, five or six months after the start of the corona outbreak, I use the experience that I had in my class on Digital Activism this semester. Reflecting on the experience, it is important for teachers like me to have their students “see” the lessons and not just “hear” them especially during this time of remote and flexible learning where our only means of interaction with the students is through a screen. Students will appreciate it more, and will learn more, when teachers do not just talk about it but more importantly, will show it. For teachers, during this time of a novel virus, this principle of walking the talk should not sound new. I think that this should have been the case even if Covid-19 was not here. That is why these trying times did not actually change teachers but instead, it revealed teachers – who is really doing their job and who is not? And for those who have been really doing it, they don’t panic. They have peace.