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Christmas in the year 2020

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Having arrived in the Philippines in August of 2019, I have had the wonderful opportunity of seeing the Filipino Christmas spirit less than a month after I first set foot in Manila. I recall my wife sharing that in September of last year, while taking a cab home, she was surprised to hear “Jingle Bells” playing on the radio! You can imagine this is an interesting development for a family that spent their last Christmas in Beijing, where Christmas is not part of the tradition for the vast majority of the population and where the cold (and sometimes even the snow) makes it, if not comfortable, at least familiar to the Swiss.

The entry of the “Ber” months as a sign for the beginning of the Christmas holidays is also a change for someone who saw the start of Christmas markets such as the Zibelemärit in Bern as the official launch of the Yuletide celebrations. As a child, nothing could compare to the sight of snow in the streets, gatherings of guests, family and friends and the overall warmth that the holidays bring in December.

However, 2020 has proven to be a whirlwind year, to say the least. From the initial volcanic eruption that temporarily halted some of our daily activities, to the pandemic still ongoing that has forced us to adapt the way we live, work and interact, to the string of typhoons that have battered the country and the homes and livelihood of some citizens, this year has been anything but normal. Yet as we continue to await the spread of a vaccine (of which ETH Zürich has helped research on, and which Lonza might contribute to mass produce), we strive to find ways to adjust to the “new normal” we will face for the foreseeable future.

The reality is, 2020 did not strike us all equally and has only further exacerbated preexisting challenges and inequalities. Prior to this year, thousands of people already faced hurdles such as how to provide for their families and where they will be getting their next meal, especially after facing natural calamities.

In previous years, Switzerland has stood in solidarity with victims of these acts of nature, most recently during Typhoon Ompong in 2018 and Typhoon Ursula earlier this year. The value of solidarity is an important aspect of Swiss identity. In fact, it is enshrined in our Constitution: “…in the knowledge that only those who use their freedom remain free, and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members.”

It is with this resolve to promote mutual support with our partners around the globe that international non-government organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) trace their roots in Switzerland and still maintain their presence there.

In the Philippines, the embassy has continued to augment the efforts of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to provide relief to those that need it the most. This year, after the devastating typhoons that struck the country in a span of a week, the Swiss Government has contributed CHF500,000 or roughly P27 million to the emergency appeal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and their support to victims of this calamity. It is through this solidarity that we recognized that we needed to do more before this tumultuous year ends.

As we entered the Ber months, we saw the spirit of Christmas still very much alive in the streets and wherever we went (where minimal physical distancing was present). This perfectly captured the Filipino resilience, endurance and adaptability we have seen throughout the years and inspired us to work on a Christmas solidarity action.

“Angels for Angels” aims to provide support to those who need it the most. This project involves the sale of Christmas angels made from up-cycled used Nespresso capsules – a symbol of Swiss innovation, design and sustainability. Each unique angel is worth P100. All proceeds go to support the work of the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC) and the International Bazaar Foundation (IBF) to help provide livelihood for women and children’s nutrition and education. The objects are beautifully crafted and make an innovative addition to your Christmas trees. They can be described as “jeweled tears of happiness for a sharing Christmas,” as Secretary Locsin put it in a recent Tweet.

These ornaments may be bought at the Glorietta 2 and Greenbelt 5 concierge during the weekends of December and may be ordered online through our embassy email manila@eda.admin.ch.

We launched this program last month, on the occasion of World Children’s Day, as a reminder as to whom this project will benefit. The launch saw the official lighting of a massive Christmas tree at Glorietta 2. The tree will slowly light up as more angels are sold, with the goal to eventually light the angel on top. This effort would have not been possible without the support of Glorietta, Greenbelt, Novateur Coffee Concepts Inc., Brushstroke Creative and Olympia Violago Power, who have all helped contribute to the ongoing success of the action.

This project is only one of many endeavors to help promote solidarity in the Philippines. Throughout the course of this year, we have learned of various Swiss organizations and affiliates who have helped make an impact in the communities that they serve, even before the pandemic made its presence felt. From our end, we have attempted to highlight their stories and spotlight the positive actions that they have made on our Facebook page. If you wish to learn more, check out #SwissSolidarity.

Solidarity does not necessarily equate to grand efforts of aid. Rather, it is the idea that we all have something to contribute to help improve the quality of life for those who need it the most. As we continue on with the holidays and remain optimistic for a brighter 2021, I encourage all of us to be #AngelsforAngels and help be the light in someone’s life this Christmas season.

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines. Prior to this assignment, he served as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss embassy in Beijing from 2015-2019. He also held the same designation in the Swiss embassy in Paris in 2011.

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