Stranded for weeks, UPLB dormers battle anxiety, criticism
LAGUNA, Philippines – When news broke of the coronavirus outrbreak in the country, Jerome Atangan’s parents asked him whether he was going home to Koronadal City in South Cotabato.
Atangan, a University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) freshman staying at the campus' New Forestry Residence Hall (NFRH), told his parents he wouldn't.
"I was afraid because there was no suspension of classes yet. Then several places started their lockdowns," Atangan shared in an online interview.
Atangan’s story is typical of the more than 2,000 UPLB students stranded in the university town. Apart from the 63 dormers stuck in the Forestry area, 543 other students are stranded in other dormitories on campus, and 1,579 are staying put in the different apartments and boarding houses outside campus.
Despite news of the outbreak, many UPLB students had stayed behind in the absence of an early advisory on the suspension of online classes. Most didn't have strong internet connections and good equipment at home for these classes, and so were still dependent on facilities in Los Baños.
By the time the administration suspended online classes across different campuses on March 18, it was already too late for them to leave, due to the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.
Maria Jezreel Barcela, a resident of the all-women Forestry Residence Hall (FOREHA), shared why she chose to stay in Los Baños when her home was relatively near, in Siniloan, Laguna.
“When online classes got suspended and I learned that cases outside Los Baños [were starting] to rise, I chose not to go home because I [didn't] want to [accidentally bring the virus home],” she said.
Amid all the restrictions, however, Forestry dormers have been trying to put on a semblance of normalcy.
"Sometimes I help in preparing the food. If not, we busy ourselves with chores,” Barcela said.
In their spare time, the dormers also volunteered in efforts to support medical frontliners. Recently, they made protective masks for doctors and nurses in nearby St. Jude Hospital. (READ: LIST: How to help healthcare workers, frontliners during coronavirus pandemic)
UPDATED (03/25/2020): The Beta Sigma Fraternity Alumni Association had donated office materials to UHO for the...Posted by UPLB Community Affairs on Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Meanwhile, Jomar Guzman, a dormer from Quezon City, used his spare time to take photographs of the flora and fauna in the Forestry area – a place which has more species of trees than the continental United States.
“It is fun and exciting,” says Guzman. “I was able to take pictures of rare bird species. Since there is less noise, birds tend to flock closer and [I was able] get a clear shot.... I was also able to practice my photography skills.”
Caring for the dormers
The UPLB administration made sure to provide each dormer with at least 3 cooked meals every day. University Housing Office (UHO) Chief Prof. Zoilo Belano, Jr. was also repeatedly seen handing out donations and meeting with dormitory officers.
Those staying in apartments and boarding houses also received donations from the Serve the People Brigade (STP-UPLB)’s Task Force Community Unit Response (TF CURE), composed of student-volunteers from UPLB in partnership with Barangay Batong Malake.
But the number of donors are tapering off, and more problems are beginning to surface.
By the second week of the lockdown, many of those stranded shared that they were slowly feeling the pinch. In a recent open letter, UPLB Chancellor Fernando Sanchez, Jr. admitted that “funds are spent as fast as they were received," and made another call for financial contributions to sustain efforts for the dormers.
Barcela also said that the intermittent water supply – a long-standing problem at UPLB's dorms – should be addressed.
“The dormers are already scared of what may happen, and they tend to take a bath or wash their hands frequently," she said.
She also pointed out the problem of getting toiletries, a necessity especially in an all-women’s dorm. “We schedule residents to go down [to the town proper] so that it wouldn’t be hard to get supplies,” Barcela said.
Residents also shared how being far from home made the experience more challenging.
“It is hard to find the drive to move around due to the anxiety and fear for your personal safety,” Atangan said. (READ: Keep calm and cope: How to stay mentally healthy during coronavirus crisis)
Adding to this anxiety was social media backlash. Atangan bewailed netizens' reactions to media coverage of the dormers' plight.
“Instead of garnering support, we got criticized.... They thought of us as animals and demons,” Atangan said.
“Some wished us dead, saying that we deserve it because UP students only know how to rally and criticize the government. It made me cry.” – Rappler
To donate to the Forestry dormers, please contact Sidrian Hutamariz, MAREHA president, at 09957612829. The UPLB administration is accepting in-kind donations at the UPLB gate, from 2 to 4 pm. Visit the official UPLB page for other details on how to donate. The STPB-UPLB TF CURE also accepts donations. Interested donors may contact Jianred Faustino at 09176266589.