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It was 2016 when Mel—a blogger, virtual assistant, and wife to Lem, an oiler—started her Facebook page, The Seafarer’s Wife Diaries. She intended the page to be a space to share her ‘hugot’ and her personal experiences of being the better half of a seafarer.

 Other seafarers’ wives soon started following her, engaging with her posts and asking for advice. Mel realized that the page she started was growing beyond her, and was also becoming more significant to the other seafaring wives. She then decided to change the name to The Seafarer’s Wife Diaries PH.

 The page transitioned from a personal blog to an online community where Filipino seamen’s wives exchange words of encouragement and advice and share their relatable experiences. But in 2020, when the pandemic came, their community answered to a bigger purpose.

 A call for service

 When the news broke out that there were thousands of seafarers who were stranded in Manila after the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was imposed, Mel and other wives began worrying about the seafarers’ living conditions. When they saw the living conditions in the boarding houses in Malate, they knew they had to do something.

 They decided to post a call for help for the stranded seafarers on their Facebook page. Donations started arriving in the form of finances and food supplies. More seafaring families reached out to the page and extended their willingness to help – enough to overwhelm the humble intention of wives looking after their husbands’ “kabaros.”

The challenges and victories in volunteering

 When the help came in, it poured. Mel worried about how she would be able to singlehandedly distribute the donations when transportation was restricted, and there were no other volunteers at that time. She fervently prayed for the solution to help distribute the donations to the seafarers.

 The next morning came with an answered prayer. One seafarer’s wife called her and volunteered her car to transport food supplies and deliver it to the different boarding houses in Malate. Another woman called to volunteer to handle all communication needs. One also committed to help solicit for more donations. Eventually, there were seven of them – enough to make sure that the stranded seafarers would receive the support they badly needed. They set up a daily workflow.

More seafarers came to the page for help. In the daily conduct of their work, they were able to witness the hardships of the seafarers. The living conditions were poor. There would be 12 to 14 men sharing a single room. Food was scarce, and would be divided among over a hundred of them housed in the same building. When the team gave fish for sinigang, one seafarer was so thankful because, according to him, it had been a month since they were able to eat decent food.

 The seafarers’ wives volunteer program ran from late March to mid-May. When they concluded their volunteer work on May 15, they had been able to assist 2,000 seafarers in 48 boarding houses. The Seafarer’s Wife Diaries PH page had gone beyond their screens and inspired a community of maritime families to steward one another.

 The job had been tedious, but the wives are equally grateful. To them, it was high time to be hardworking – a payback for their husbands’ hard work.

Takeaways of a wife-volunteer

For Mel, helping seafarers is overwhelming, and she acknowledges that she and her team of wives are just instruments of the Lord’s  work. Nothing could ever explain how the Lord provided her with the help and courage she needed to carry on if not for His Divine Providence. She is also profoundly grateful to the other volunteers who shared the same challenges and victories with her and were also willing to be instruments of God’s hands to help the seafarers.

She also realized how important it is that manning agencies and other related organizations make policies or programs to make seafarers understand the essence of saving for emergencies. When the pandemic shocked the industry, it was clear that there are still mariners who had not saved for unexpected circumstances.

One seafarer also made her see how impactful it is to lend a hand. A man they assisted messaged their page to say that he will be more open to help displaced or stranded seafarers whenever he can. Although Mel was not asking for the others to return the favor, she is still thankful to have sparked a spirit of benevolence among others.

Lastly, she is grateful to have a supportive husband and is happy to make him proud. She said that Lem had never imagined that her post could influence people in a multitude of ways.  Mel shares this victory with her husband, who was also hands-on in supporting her financially, with his crewmates onboard, and spiritually, in the form of prayers.

The pandemic indeed proved that the maritime industry and the families built around it are a greater family in itself. Mel is thankful for all who helped answer the needs of the stranded seafarers during COVID-19. Be it financially, morally, or spiritually; your help is valuable to the cause. Together, this pandemic will be won over.

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.