Her businesses shut by COVID-19, a woman in Philippines turns to helping others stay safe despite personal risk


Author: Louie Pacardo, UN Women 

Charmaine Ladot volunteers her time to help her community stay safe from COVID-19. Photo: UN Women/Louie Pacardo

Koronadal City, Philippines – When Philippines started lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19, Charmaine Ladot, 40, was among the millions of business owners who were hurt. But she didn’t just bow down in despair.

Instead, Ladot is now tirelessly leading volunteers who are helping protect front-line medical workers and poor people from the virus – even though she has systemic lupus, an autoimmune disease that increases her risk of infections and of more severe symptoms from infections.

Ladot’s group Bulig Kontra COVID-19 -- Help to Counter COVID-19 -- has become one of the most organized, privately led anti-COVID-19 movements in the region, with a network of volunteer groups spread across South Cotabato province in southern Philippines.

Before, in between taking care of her parents and her 11-year-old daughter, Ladot spent her days working two jobs – managing her coffeeshop and traveling around the country doing management systems training and consulting while wearing her favorite stilettos.

When the lockdowns came, she shut the coffeeshop, cancelled her gigs, and turned her energy to the unseen enemy.

On March 13, Ladot led a group chat with four friends working at the local tourism council and at the city government. Bulig Kontra COVID-19 was born. Now its members also include restaurant owners, artists, members of business organizations. Most of them are women.

The group organizes donation drives and distributes the donations – personal protective equipment, disinfectant mist sprayers, other goods and cash – to those on the front-lines of the anti-virus battle. It coordinates with the local government to get help to where it is needed and to tell people via social media how they should protect themselves and where to get services.

Ladot the management expert works on the strategy and logistics and supervises the whole operation through online chats, phone calls and in-person meetings. She also helps deliver the donations in person to hospitals and other places.

"For women like me, it is … a chance to show our strength for our household and for the community,” she said. “But it is still hard as our enemy is invisible. Nevertheless, whatever the crisis may be, we are always given the opportunity to extend a hand to those who need us."

One major obstacle to handling the COVID-19 emergency, Ladot said, is that local governments were ill-prepared due to their lack of efficient systems and coordination.

“In this time of crisis, we need the responsiveness of local governments more than anything else,” she said. “We need to learn about proper prioritization, getting community support and a recovery plan.”

Ladot also is involved in efforts to give counselling to mothers and young girls who are anxious and depressed because of the COVID-19 emergency, and to teach young people how to stay mentally healthy.

“Everyone is having a hard time but women suffer the most,” she said. “This situation calls for addressing too and … it should be included in a community-based response for this pandemic."
Ladot said she worries most about the mothers. Parents have lost jobs, so mothers are doubly hit by the COVID-19 impact.

"I can imagine mothers crying because they cannot feed their children right,” she said. “Some women will be more prone to abuse as they will be locked up in one roof with the wrong person."

"But we are here as women to help other women and the community in general in these trying times ... even with our vulnerabilities and limitations," she said.