I went out and conquered it.
Fear is contagious. I did not want to carry it and spread it to the people whom I engage with. If I am to function without fear – for my family, friends, and APCOM colleagues – then I have to face the unknown and handle whatever comes. “There is no point in saying, ‘When I am no longer afraid, then I will do it.’”, says one of my favorite authors. With little steps into the unknown, I developed a pattern of strength which helped me show up and lead a team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the drafting of APCOM’s COVID-19 Protocol to the creation of #CoronaAPCOMpassion, fear was ever present. But without acknowledging the fear, APCOM’s management team would not have made strategic decisions. By listening to fear and addressing it in detail, APCOM staff were able to work together as one unified persona amid the crisis.
My name is Inad, and I have been with APCOM for almost 7 years. Apart from being a member of the organisation’s management team, I am also responsible to coordinate and strengthen community-led mechanisms and advocacies in national grants that receive funding from PEPFAR and Global Fund.
When COVID-19 broke out as pandemic, and the Thai government started imposing measures to address the public health issue, I got scared for my own health and safety. (I mean – who wouldn’t? I am sure you were worried, too.) As a person living with HIV, I was more scared that my immune system is not strong enough to fight this virus we know only so little about. I have worked in the HIV field long enough that I am aware of the implications of my health status. But not this time. This is a new wave of crisis that even the most powerful countries in the world are not even prepared for.
I called my Infectious Disease Specialist and asked for an appointment. I am aware that I am privileged to have a doctor I go to AIDS Conferences with, and ask her about my concerns. Although she admitted that there is less research done about HIV and COVID-19, nevertheless, she shared that I have nothing to worry as long as my viral load is ‘undetectable’.
Calming myself down is a process. But it was only the first phase of the series of processes that I have to encounter to surface out from the pandemic that pushed half of the world’s population into mandatory isolation.
Next, family back home.
I originally came from a small city in the south of Philippines. For seven (7) years that I have lived in Bangkok, Thailand, I have never felt so afraid for my family and loved ones not only about their wellbeing but also their economic stability. Living away from family and loved ones during this period of public health crisis has affected my psychological stature.
Although advised otherwise, I felt the need to check the news about the COVID-19 situation in my country. Every time “COVID-19 BREAKING NEWS” appears in my Twitter Feed, I get nervous that the positive cases in my province would increase, and eventually would affect my family.
My other worry was my parents’ worries for me. They know my health status, and they have been with me when I was fighting the grip of AIDS while it was pulling me to my supposed grave. For the second time, I have their fear. The thought of them getting scared about me getting COVID-19, away from their presence, disturbed me.
Virtual communications have made things easier and bearable. My parents and I had calls and chats regularly ensuring that both sides were safe and doing fine. This crisis is the kind where it is difficult to predict what is in store for the days ahead. The fear lingered for weeks. We acknowledged its presence, and moved ahead anyways.
Strengthening the bonds with my APCOM colleagues.
Away from my family, colleagues in APCOM have been my family for 7 years here in Thailand. If there is one good thing that this pandemic has brought, it has pulled us in the APCOM team closer together both professionally and personally.
As one of the staff who was with APCOM the longest time, I volunteered to involve myself in making sure that the organisation is able to address the concerns of every team member. With the support and approval of the management team, I drafted the APCOM Safety Protocol which ensured the security and safety of the team members during the pandemic. On a personal level, I also wanted to make sure that we can still reach out to each other every day. On the eve of government lockdown, everyone agreed to do a daily online check-in while everyone is working from home. As Skype is not as reliable as the other paid online meeting platforms, I subscribed to Zoom for the team. It turned out that the daily online check in was a path for us to do what we had done next.
It was during online check-ins that we intended to learn what was happening at the country level. We released a survey and started to receive the first set of responses. (You may not have heard of the survey because it was released unannounced, away from glaring promotions and advertising. We made sure we reach the right people to get quality information.) Through online discussions and remote coordination, we processed that information and shared our first ever COVID-19 Effect Series. The information from the grassroots community about the effects of COVID-19 was overwhelming. We brought the information together, and reflected that the team has to do something for the community. Subsequently, #CoronaAPCOMpassion was created.
The team experienced first-hand the effects of COVID-19 to our mental health. We discovered each other’s coping mechanisms just to get through a day full of worries for our families back home. We witnessed each other’s burden, and lend each other’s shoulders to bear the weight of mental pressure that the pandemic has brought to the team.
Generating support for our community from scratch
As for myself, I was able to manage the fear and mental pressure I experienced since the outbreak. I was able to look at fear in its face, and pushed it aside. Until now, fear is still there, sitting in the corner waiting to strike again. Other factors may give it size and additional strength, but taming fear is an ongoing process that I need go through in life.
The team felt how it is to be affected by the pandemic. The information we gathered from the community was overwhelming that we needed to reflect how to provide support to the grassroots community. As the holder of sensitive and personal information, the team collectively decided to donate parts of our salaries to create #CoronaAPCOMpassion to support LGBTIQ individuals who are economically affected by the pandemic in some countries. The campaign THB19 vs. COVID-19 was also created to generate financial support to Thai LGBTIQ and HIV civil society organisations who are at the frontlines.
As it was challenging and almost impossible to reprogram project funding into COVID-19 response (I know, right? Tell me about it!), we have to generate the funding by ourselves.
After all these, I thought ‘So far so good! But I feel there is more to be done.’ As APCOM was in a position to share correct and updated information, I suggested that the team organise several webinars and online discussions to gear up civil society organisations in the changing landscape brought about the COVID-19. Using my Zoom subscription, the webinars were made into fruition. The Gear Up. Get Set. Online Learning Session was one of the webinars I organised to provide community-based organisations with most up to date COVID-19 information from a medical perspective.
At this moment, I have never thought what I am giving away – as long as I am giving, and my team and community are benefiting from it.
Moving silently, defeating in detail.
If you are a devout follower of Sun Tzu or Niccolo Machiavelli as I am, you would know by heart that ‘Divide and Conquer’ is one of the most effective strategies in warfare. No problem is too big or too powerful if one knows how to divide its main moving parts and defeating them in detail. The same is true in addressing the fear I experienced in the pandemic.
No fear is too big – if I know how to tear it apart in detail.