When the country imposed the nationwide community quarantine amid the spread of the new Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), worry and uncertainty clouded the minds of many, especially the poor who are most unprepared to meet the sudden restrictions in movement and economic activity. Despite this, scholars of the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) were among the first to organize themselves to do volunteer work in their localities.
DOST officials are amazed with the various initiatives done by its scholars—both ongoing and scholar-graduates.
“It is very inspiring to know that our DOST scholars are doing their own part to help the nation recover from the current crisis,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña who regularly reports on the agency’s efforts in his official social media page.
As of June 5, there are 1,081 ongoing and former science scholars who volunteered in relief operations; data encoding and validation; 3D printing of frames for face shields and production of other personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontliners; and production of alcohol. Some even helped in their community safety assistance program by monitoring persons entering and leaving their barangay.
DOST-SEI Director, Dr. Josette Biyo, said that while they are in awe of these initiatives, she credits the Institute’s scholars’ formation program called “The Filipino Patriot Scholars Project” in further awakening patriotism and servant leadership traits among scholars.
“Since 2017, we wanted to inculcate the core values such as professional excellence, social responsibility, servant leadership and volunteerism among our scholars aside from them pursuing academic excellence. We know that those values don’t fully blossom in a matter of days or weeks, but the Patriot Project allowed them to find deeper meaning to the brand of being DOST Scholars,” Biyo said.
The number of scholar-volunteers kept rising from an initial 500 in April to more than a thousand as of date. Biyo added that there are still scholar-volunteers whose contributions were undocumented.
“The documented efforts may represent only some of the initiatives from DOST Scholars but the impact cannot be overstated,” she said.
Among the documented efforts, Biyo said, some notable modes of assistance include: data validation for the distribution of Social Amelioration Program, development of online tracking mechanism for persons under investigation and monitoring (PUIs and PUMs), and strategic campaign to provide baby-friendly relief via a movement called #FeedPHBabies.
A number of scholars and alumni also pooled resources to buy food packs, groceries, and other essentials for the vulnerable in their localities.
Scholars also helped in information dissemination by creating infographics and publication of relevant information materials while others enlisted as volunteers for the Molecular Biolab to be established in assistance to COVID-19 testing.
The Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidomiological Modeler (FASSSTER), which was developed by a team led by a research team from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), with funding support from the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) of DOST, allows forecasting of possible cases in a given area at a specified period of time.
FASSSTER is used for creating predictive models and visualizing possible scenarios of outbreaks of dengue, typhoid fever and measles at specified time periods.
Under this project, 45 DOST Scholar volunteers are deployed at the Department of Health (DOH) regional offices nationwide and work as data encoders and analysts.
Data gathered from this model will support the decision-making of DOH, local government units and healthcare facilities in terms of resource planning and other measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Biyo mentioned that Shana Genavia, a DOST Scholar, was also part of the DNA Sequencing Core Facility that helped validate the COVID-19 Detection Kit developed by the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP NIH).
MD-PhD scholar-graduates of UP Philippine General Hospital also underwent training at the UP National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (UP-NIMBB) for deployment at the Department of Health (DOH) Testing Centers.
She also cited that some DOST Balik Scientists and graduate scholars from University of San Agustin in Iloilo are doing epidemiological modelling of COVID-19 for the Province of Iloilo, Guimaras, and Panay. The results of which are given to the City Mayor and Governors in aid of policy making.
“Even in Marawi, we saw great volunteer efforts from those who benefitted from our Bangon Marawi Scholarship Program. These scholar-graduates who named themselves Team Batis distributed food packs in Marawi City and Balo-i in Lanao del Norte, and Saguiaran, Marantao, Maguing, and Tugaya in Lanao del Sur,” Biyo said.
As the community quarantine was relaxed in several parts of the country, DOST-SEI is positive that the initiatives from its scholars will remain.
“Indeed, there’s no amount of volunteer work that is too small nor big enough. The fact that reaching out to others while being under the same threat of exposure to the deadly virus is noble for our young scholars. We’re so proud of them,” Biyo disclosed.