If there is one thing 2020 taught me, it would be the idea that humanity can make anything possible—regardless of distance.

When the year started, things were normal and everything seemed fine—except for the sudden activity of Taal Volcano. Pillars of dark smoke rose from the volcano to the sky, accompanied by roaring thunderstorms. Despite the volcano being roughly a hundred kilometers south of Manila, its ash reached some parts of the Philippine capital. Worse, the people residing in Batangas were severely affected by the ashfall. As a consequence, families there were sent to evacuation centers, just like what we do when a typhoon devastates the country.

In the days after, photos of the area surrounding the volcano blanketed in ash surfaced on social media. The perimeter of Taal looked like a winter wonderland, with leafless trees lying flat on the ground. As these horrifying images went viral, ordinary people did what they usually do in such challenging times—spring to action to help those affected. Many organizations, including student groups, from all corners of the archipelago initiated donation drives and sent relief goods to affected communities. Heavy traffic piled up on the way to Batangas because of the immense number of people trying to reach out to help fellow human beings. Early this year, people showed that they could help those in distress—regardless of distance.

After the ashfall came the disease. The coronavirus pandemic ravaged the Philippines, and has continued to do so. When news about Taal subsided, life swiftly went back to normal. Even though a case of coronavirus was reported in the country by end of January, people were not extremely alarmed. There was no lockdown imposed in February, or an order demanding mask-wearing in public spaces at all times. 

By March, however, the number of affected people had increased. Then, classes were suspended for a week, then for a month, then my classmates and I ended up passing the semester with relative ease, learning just a chapter or two in our subjects. At first, we thought the health crisis would not last long and that there would be a return to normalcy in just a few months. How wrong we were.

It’s already December, and yet our college block has not been able to hold memorable events this year as we are locked in our homes, making sure we’re safe from the virus. Still, despite being locked down with our faces in front of light-emitting screens, my blockmates and I regularly talk with each other via group chats. Although people my age are staying home due to the pandemic, we can still manage to socialize with our friends —regardless of distance.

For a young person like me, studying is just as important as socializing. But the pandemic has altered the ways of learning and education as we knew them. When my university started classes last August, educators now taught students with the aid of online platforms. 

It is essential to remember, however, that online classes are controversial because not all students have sufficient equipment for online learning. Even worse, internet connection in the Philippines remains as slow as a snail. Still, classes have pushed through even if students and teachers have to stay home.  

From helping one another to holding online classes to socializing digitally, humans in the middle of a pandemic are proving that we can do what we must do—regardless of distance. Many people would wish to forget this particular year. But 2020 has also offered us crucial lessons, which we can use at present to pursue a better future. That humans can do anything—regardless of distance—is this year’s lesson for me.

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