Feature: Jobless Philippine teacher gets helping hand from Chinese embassy

A 65-year-old Philippine teacher, who lost her job due to cutbacks prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, has received 50,000 pesos (roughly 1,000 U.S. dollars) and other assistance from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Eloisa Gicar, who previously taught at and ran a private school in Caloocan City, a suburb in Metro Manila, said she would use the money to fund a small convenience or sari-sari store that she set up recently in her neighborhood.

"Thanks to the generosity of the Chinese embassy, I have additional funds to support my business," Gicar, a mother of five and grandmother to 10, told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

She said the sari-sari store is her main source of income now, having lost her job recently because of COVID-19.

"I am very thankful for the Chinese people. I know now that they are very much willing to help Filipinos who are in need especially during this time of the pandemic. Now I can pay for the water, electricity and other bills that accumulated since March," she said.

Gicar, a teacher for nearly 15 years, runs her own small private grade school in Caloocan City before the pandemic struck. She was forced to permanently shut down the school after the Philippine government shifted to distance learning.

Due to the lockdowns, the government bans face-to-face classes for fear of virus transmission. Many of the country's schools struggled to adapt to the online and modular set-up for the approaching academic year and shortage of enrollees.

Gicar said the school's meager savings were only enough to pay its water and electricity bills, as well as cover the salaries of the five teachers.

In March, Gicar felt compelled to take extra measures to make a living, as the jobs of her husband, who was stranded in the province due to the coronavirus lockdown, and children were also struck down by the pandemic.

Gicar said vending in the streets easily came to mind. "I used to do it when I and my eight siblings were orphaned at an early age," she said.

Gicar's story went viral when it was posted on the social media. The post includes Gicar's picture peddling fresh bread, chocolates, and chips, and carrying a note that says "private school teacher, closed, please buy. Thanks."

Netizens and the local media got wind of the Gicar's plight and started to chip in any amount for the teacher.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian also took note of the viral post, saying Gicar's story "touched a lot of people in China." He immediately instructed his staff to get in touch with the Gicar family "to express support and solidarity."

Counselor Xie Yonghui of the Chinese embassy visited Gicar's sari-sari store recently to hand over the cash, 100 kilos of rice, 10 liters of cooking oil, 100 pieces of face masks, and other materials.

"As the Philippine National Teacher's month is around the corner, it is our best wishes that you and all teachers in the Philippines would stay safe and healthy until the final victory in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic," the embassy said in a statement.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China and the Philippines have been helping and supporting each other to combat COVID-19.

"As a close and friendly neighbor across the sea, China has provided a large number of medical supplies and sent a team of experts to assist the Philippines' battle COVID-19," the embassy said.

To help local families that are severely affected by the pandemic, the Chinese embassy has been donating "friendship bag" containing essential supplies to help the people get through the difficulties.

"The Chinese embassy will always stand together with the Philippine people during this trying time," the embassy added.

Gicar is among the millions of Filipinos who lost their jobs when the government imposed a lockdown in mid-March to stem the spread of COVID-19, with workers in the tourism, aviation, and hospitality industries bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Starting in June, the government started to gradually reopen the economy. Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said that the unemployment rate in the Philippines went down to 10 percent in July 2020 from 17.7 percent in April 2020.

The National Economic and Development Authority, the government's economic planning agency, forecast the unemployment rate to further drop as the lockdown restrictions are eased, paving for more businesses to reopen. 

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