John Paul Diosay sells hopia, among other things, to earn money for him and his family to live on. Whatever is left, he sets aside for his school tuition.

March 10, 2020 – John Paul was eating his afternoon snacks with his classmates when the news broke. Classes in Metro Manila were suspended, three days after the Philippine government recorded its first local transmission of the coronavirus. The suspension wasn’t meant to last, and classes were set to resume on March 14. But John knew that things could worsen.

Quarantine and the academic shock

On March 16, the entire Luzon was placed on Enhanced Community Quarantine. This precaution was made to prevent the spread of the coronavirus across the whole region. But for students like John, this meant an indefinite pause in their academic journey.

A first-year maritime student, John knew he was meant for the maritime world. He braved to shift from Electrical Engineering to Marine Transportation, although it meant seven months of waiting for the next term. When he got in, he was amazed by the littlest details he learned from seafaring – from the parts of the ship to the computation of drafts. He had always strived to maintain good grades and stay at the top of his class, and his time in his maritime school was no exception.

When COVID-19 hindered schools from operating conventionally, John was disheartened because he was just weeks away from finishing the semester. He knew his school would find a workable solution,  but he was uncomfortable at the thought of no face-to-face learning.

The plight of maritime students

John is skeptical about online learning. Certain subjects are harder to learn online, given the importance of being hands-on when familiarizing yourself with equipment and learning how to operate them. He also believes that students who already find it hard to learn face-to-face with an instructor will most likely find it harder to transition to the online learning approach. Additionally, some of his classmates have limited Internet access in their provinces. He also cites the possibility of students taking advantage of less stringent monitoring, increasing the likelihood of cheating.

Other than the logistics of online learning, John also notes the financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Countless families struggle financially; John’s family is one of those.

His father, Dennis, who used to work as a Heavy Equipment Operator in Japan, was here on vacation when quarantine was declared, and is now stranded here.  It wasn’t the best time to get stuck in a financially draining situation. John knew this, and he felt it.

When his school started their online lessons, the family’s internet subscription was already disconnected after months of overdue bills. He had no choice but to resort to loading his phone for mobile data, which was costly given their financial situation. Although he could take the examinations, John was also unable to pay for his tuition fees.

The Filipino resilience

To remedy his situation, as soon as General Community Quarantine was set in place, he started selling bread to earn money. Every day, he buys hopia and resell it. He takes his bike and personally delivers these goods to his customers. He also resells face masks and face shields. His income goes to their everyday needs, and whatever that is left is set aside for his tuition. Indeed, there is no stopping for a determined student.

Despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, John remains steadfast in his pursuit to become a captain. He believes that the pandemic is temporary, and the issues in the maritime education will be addressed as the world adjusts to the situation.

He has also seen good things happen during the pandemic. Around 11 PM one night, for example, John received a call from his instructor. Much to his surprise, his teacher had been calling his students one by one to make sure that they all understood how to compute sunrise and sunset so that they would be ready for a test. Despite the lateness of the hour, he appreciated the call, a sign of his teacher’s dedication. John knows that the challenge in this transition is not exclusive to them, students, but also includes the faculty and staff the schools.

John still sees the different opportunities for him to grow despite the pandemic. He was able to virtually peer-mentor his friends who struggled academically. He was able to learn more about business. He was able to learn from his online instructors and maritime vloggers. Above all, he was able to provide for his family.

Now, John is hopeful that one day, he will wake up to his usual morning routine before COVID-19: stretch, eat breakfast, prepare for class, and enjoy the traffic from Pasig to Sta. Mesa. He looks forward to going back to school and meeting the strict lady guard with her ponytail. He gets excited at the thought of learning inside a classroom, like his first day of school all over again. One day, he can say that COVID-19 is history.

As he waits for that day, he continues to be grateful. His father has been able to go back to Japan. He is grateful that there are new ways for him to learn. He is grateful that his family is safe from the virus. Lastly, he is still grateful to be alive – to have the chance to sail the seas and be the Master Mariner he always aspires to be.

John looks forward to the day he can go back to school to continue the pursuit of his dream to be a Master Mariner.

Elijah Jose Barrios

Elijah Jose Barrios is a 24-year old Third Officer, Teacher, and Course Developer. He advocates for child literacy and youth empowerment through his involvement in different organizations.  He considers himself an appreciator of any form of art and usually puts all his realizations into writing.