Adapting to the ‘new normal’
There is still uncertainty over whether life will return to normal or things have changed forever through this pandemic crisis. During the second month of lockdown, with many businesses closed and restrictions on movement and social gathering, it was clear that both the community and island must adapt. For the agencies under my oversight, I encouraged them to envision ways to continue their important work, even when the normal is no longer allowable.
When the current Covid-19 islandwide lockdown was just a few weeks old I wrote a letter to the agencies that I oversee as a senator in the Guam Legislature. My committee has oversight over agencies such as the Guam Public Library, PBS Guam, The Guam Museum, Guam CAHA, and Parks and Recreation.
One thing that has been confirmed to me during this time is that, in many ways, art, culture, and heritage are the very things that sustain us when we find our usual routines and lifestyles disrupted in order to isolate and follow social distancing protocols. Our health care front liners and our public safety officials are keeping us safe, but as we shelter in our homes, it has been the work of artists, musicians, novel writers and directors of film, and other local creators who are part of enriching our lives, uplifting our spirits, and sustaining our souls.
In my letter I encouraged the agencies in my oversight, to the degree possible, to find innovative ways to continue to carry out their services and to share the community resources, the treasures, these agencies safeguard and protect. On one hand, commendably, agency heads and staff may be part of the direct Covid-19 efforts, rolling up their sleeves and providing services where needed. While recognizing that, I encouraged each of them to also work to develop some programs, no matter how small, which would take advantage of the technology that we have, to continue to provide services through arts, culture, and education to the community.
We have seen some of them taking the initiative, most notably PBS Guam. The public television station has worked together with Guam Department of Education to launch PBS University, which delivers online instruction to public school students sheltered at home. Other ideas are still being developed or are in the works. There is a lot of potential in what they could provide. For example, a mini-tour of part of the museum, or shareable short videos of descriptions of artifacts and particular parts of our history, could be developed. The Guam Product Seal could create social media posts about its program milestones and ways it benefits our economy. Local entrepreneurs within the program account for over 700 jobs. The businesses, employees, and products can be showcased as those who help make the program a success, provide products for locals and visitors alike, and help strengthen the Guam brand.
Around the world and on Guam, we have seen people, educational institutions, and businesses adapting to the new social distancing restrictions that will likely be with us for at least the next year or two. The technology exists for much of our daily lives to be done virtually, and, looking to the future, some of our current remote way of life may become the new normal. As people were locked down at home and encouraged not to drive around, we saw apps emerge and businesses adapt to deliver food to those sheltering at home, create virtual malls, and more. Will these services simply disappear when the current restrictions loosen? Probably not.
There has been discussion of e-commerce and online shopping in Guam for quite a while, but this rich area of potential has not received much attention thus far. But what if we took this moment to reimagine more than just the delivery of food? One of the agencies I oversee is the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña, best known for the Wednesday night market. Right now, some shops are still closed, and the wonderful local arts and crafts cannot be shared with the island or the world. Imagine if we used this moment to adapt how we connect those local artisans to their markets. Imagine if there was a genuine effort to develop an online marketplace for local artists to sell their wares even if the world seems to stop.
As we talk about economic recovery and reopening the economy, let’s not lose sight of potential lessons we may have learned during this difficult time. CHamorus and, more recently, the others who have made Guam their home, are resilient. We persevere through earthquakes, super typhoons, and more. This has been a difficult time with many more challenges likely ahead of this, but in this, too, we will adapt and overcome.
Sen. Kelly Marsh (Taitano) is the assistant majority leader of the 35th Guam Legislature. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org