When landscaper Dion Sese heard about the struggles of some of his fellow Filipinos to afford the airfare to leave Cayman, he went on Facebook with an appeal to his countrymen.
“Every Filipino has a small can they keep in the corner to collect pennies and 10-cent pieces,” he told the Cayman Compass. “I said there are 3,000 of us. If everybody gives one dollar, we can pay for two flights.”
The close-knit community survived the worst of the coronavirus crisis by leaning on each other for support, providing food packages and other relief for those who lost jobs.
Even so, Sese said he never expected what happened next.
A trickle of people began showing up at his house with jars and cans of coins.
Within a few days, that trickle had turned into a flood.
“More than 100 people brought their pennies,” he said.
One woman brought a jar of coins she had collected over 11 years.
Those that didn’t have a dollar to give brought their possessions.
A set of plastic drawers sold for $5, someone brought a brand new basketball which was sold on for $25.
A barber gave $10 haircuts in Sese’s yard and all the proceeds went to the cause.
“A lot of people had nothing to give, so they gave their time and their talents,” Sese said.
By the time all the cash was counted, there was enough to fund flights for eight people from Cayman to Manila.
Rachel Gepolla, known as Sunny Dee, who was part of the support effort, said, “Some of our fellows were in really dire straits and they chose to go home to the Philippines, but they had no money for the ticket.”
In all, around 500 Filipino nationals have left the island since the start of the crisis. Sese believes more would have left if they could have afforded the fare.
“There are a lot of people that are still here struggling,” he added.
The largely informal efforts of the wider Filipino community have helped sustain and support those who have been worst impacted.
Now Sese, Gepolla and some of their compatriots are trying to better organise their efforts with the foundation of a new non-profit – Cayman Bayanihan.
“Bayanihan is our equivalent of Caymankind,” said Gepolla.
The word – which roughly translates as community – represents a tradition in the Philippines dating back to a time when neighbours would help each other to move house by lifting their entire dwelling and transporting it to a new location.
It has become a metaphor for charity and community kindness that Sese and Gepolla believe is a fitting name for the new charity.
“We have the groundwork in place and, in future, if Filipinos are in need, we will be able to help them,” said Sese.
For more information about the group, visit the Cayman Bayanihan Facebook page.