Ben, HBCC Stigma Stories (Illustration: Vina Salazar/Oxfam)
Stigma Stories: Help in Times of Great Need
Ben, 36, is a community organizer with an NGO helping people find jobs and creating sources of income in his hometown, Cotabato City. When the pandemic began, his role shifted to mobilizing Barangays (townships) to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus through hygiene awareness sessions that include lessons on practicing proper personal hygiene and the importance of handwashing.
Determined as he is, Ben continued to reach out to people through regular calls and text messages since mobility was limited with the ongoing community quarantines. But when circumstances permit, he would never miss the chance to pay them a visit.
Until one day, Ben woke up with a fever and a sore throat that eventually turned into a persistent cough. Immediately, he contacted his colleagues and isolated himself in a room near the house where his wife and two children stayed.
“I could not accept that I had the symptoms of COVID-19. I felt anxious. I was scared for my family. My colleagues were also all alarmed even though they knew that I was only a suspected patient.”
They reported his situation to the Barangay Health Unit who sent a Barangay health worker to guide him on how to monitor his temperature and other symptoms; his family, too, was asked to quarantine.
While in isolation, rumours circulated in his Barangay that he was a suspected COVID-19 patient. Their relatives refused to reach out to them, while their neighbours suddenly became unfriendly toward them.
Despite feeling anxious and scared, he pushed himself to think about the future of his family.
“What would happen to my children if I did not overcome this? I knew I had to make my body strong.”
Ben’s colleagues gave him tremendous support which lifted his spirits. Not a day passed when they did not call him to ask about his health and what provisions he needed. They also encouraged him to schedule a medical check-up to better understand his situation. He heeded their advice and took the swab test in the second week of his isolation.
“I said to myself, there are still people who are willing to help you in times of great need.”
Fortunately, his wife and children did not get sick. His wife secured a clearance so she could go to the market and cook nutritious food. Every day, she would visit Ben to ease his loneliness.
It took more than a week before Ben received the news that he tested negative for COVID-19, but suffered from pneumonia. But Ben insisted on extending his isolation to be sure that he was totally healed and free of any symptoms. After a month of isolation, Ben received a health clearance and came back to work.
“We say, ‘Health is Wealth’ and so every day, we must maintain cleanliness and practice proper personal hygiene to avoid being infected with COVID-19.”
Looking back, Ben realized how his spirituality shaped his response to his ordeal. “I learned that a person needs to have a stronger faith in Allah, because Allah is the only one who can help us face this challenge every day.”*Ben’s real name withheld.