On the brighter side of things
Innovative, Compassionate, Sometimes Surprising Ways Communities Worldwide Have Faced The Pandemic — Together
The ingenuity and genuine kindness showed by countries around the globe have given me hope. I hope you enjoy them, too.
I’ll cut right to the chase. Things are rough right now. Still, I found hope in these innovative, compassionate, and surprising solutions that people around the world have found to help one another.
Kind people exist; that’s worth smiling about, isn’t it?
London keeps vulnerable residents safe with a volunteer-run umbrella organization. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK group aims to help those who are self-isolating stay healthy.
Volunteers shop for the elderly, deliver medicine, walk dogs, and professionals provide tele-services people ordinarily access by leaving their homes. Whether a volunteer or a person requesting help, those feeling lonely can chat and discuss how distancing affects them.
Singapore City offers updates via WhatsApp to residents with the Government’s messages in four languages. I love that those who don’t know the dominant language in the media may still get important information. If you too would like the latest Singaporean news, you can sign up. No idea if/what rates apply; fair warning.
Religious leaders in African cities including Nairobi, Kenya, collaborated with the government to deliver quality information to followers. Whether by zoom meetings, letters, or calls, someone close to the community made certain people stay informed.
“You can pray only if you are alive,” quipped one religious leader.
Another expressed how challenging getting people to listen, even when you are trusted. “In Africa it is difficult to tell people to stop hand-shake greetings. It’s even more difficult in places of worship. It’s our way. But I think with time people can understand.”
When things feel uncertain, it’s helpful to hear from someone you trust. Community leaders can explain things in a way that makes sense to their neighbors. Every group, every city has a micro-culture and in a scary time, it’s nice to hear reliable information from someone that “gets” you.
Police officers in Turkey began taking food orders from elderly people and delivering, helping them avoid the virus. If that isn’t the most onion-choppingly sweet gesture, I don’t know what is.
Turkey is not the only place where police have found a new role during the pandemic. Several countries in South Asia have teamed with police departments to help with tracing. Their chosen career means they have experience trying to find people.
Contact traces—finding and notifying people who have been in contact with a contagious person — take many more people than you’d think. Tracing all contacts for a single person may take three to four days. If you want to learn this skill and help your own community, you can! It’s free, compliments of the Johns Hopkins University.
Much of it is calling or leaving notices. It’s up to the people what to do once they are notified. Most people do quarantine themselves, thankfully. Please don’t imagine it’s a SWAT team kicking down doors and declaring, “Ye hath been exposed and must come with us to the gallows!” It’s not that. Communities have to work together and build trust, and this is one-way people can. High levels of trust are good for everyone in a community.
A city in Tunis delivers essential food to those who might otherwise go hungry or return to work when it is not safe. Covid-19 has been especially hard on already vulnerable people who have little savings to fall back on and may be in poor health from a lack of healthcare.
Wealthier people (shown by cell tower studies) distanced earlier. If you have the resources to hunker down for a while, you’re at an advantage right now. Those who cannot feed their families without perpetually working have little choice. Seeing communities care is wonderful—especially now.
A community kitchen opened in Kerala, India, that delivers food at a low price to ensure that no one goes hungry. Again, we see an awareness that those who cannot eat or feed their families must take risks.
Some may even violate the law by working, but the alternative may be an inability to feed their children. If my children were hungry, I would do whatever I could to feed them, including putting myself at risk (I’m high-risk). Empathy. Consideration for our fellow man. It’s lovely to see it anywhere in the world because it would be easy to retreat and not worry for others.
New York City launched a website that involves locals in response to COVID-19 and allows them to self-report symptoms. The information can help forecast and inform officials and residents about where they should avoid. Additionally, it tells everyone who may need help.
Unfortunately, we have seen extremists spreading inaccurate information in areas where minorities live, in an effort misinform them and influence their behavior such that they catch and spread the virus. The inspiring part of the story comes from the people who aren’t just standing by and watching it happen. Some communities have taken a strong stand and not tolerated this.
The Jewish community in the United States has loudly supported the Chinese community. President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, David Bernstein, remarked about the two communities shared values, “there’s a very close tie naturally between the two communities,” he said. “So it’s natural when one of us feels targeted, the other is there to support.”
Countries like Ethiopia, where soap and water are scarce, use an antimicrobial fabric that allows you to wash your hands with minimal water. A permanent treatment bonds to the material and allows one to wash his or her hands when running water and soap are not an option.
Volunteers contaminated themselves with nonpathogenic E. Coli and compared the washing fabric results to hand washing with soap. Surprisingly, the fabric removed bacteria better than hand washing. No word on the method of hand washing used, or if each person attempted to wash similarly or the same length of time. This is encouraging as it may be lifesaving in a humanitarian crisis where sanitation is not a luxury available.
Whoever devised this was clearly considering the residents' reality. I love seeing that because unfortunately the same advice doesn’t work everywhere. Would it be great if everyone washed their hands with soap and water? Yes. Can everyone do that? No. Those people need answers that apply to their situation.
Barcelona, Spain teamed with the Touristic Business Association and arranged for 200 apartments that normally serve tourism to go to families in vulnerable situations and homeless. Whether too many live in a home, someone lives in a nursing home and cannot get space, or someone lives with an abusive person, this resource is an example of how our losses can achieve some good. We can get ourselves out of this, but we need to work together and get creative.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, did something similar by hosting the elderly in local hotel rooms. They aimed to get older adults away from informal settlements where they could catch the virus. Much like Spain, they have turned a loss into something hopeful.
Private hospitals in Pakistan have offered spare rooms for isolation and ventilators to help increase the number of people other hospitals can treat. These facilities were free to do as they wished. That says a lot, giving away resources in uncertain times.
Two locations that deserve a creative humanitarian award are New Delhi and Madrid. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India now holds a different crowd. It serves as a quarantine location that offers enough space that people won’t catch something they don’t already have. It’s a superb way to put things to use that otherwise sit idle right now.
Madrid, Spain converted an ice rink into a morgue. The fury of the outbreak in Spain was exceptional and rivaled Italy. As grim as an ice-rink morgue sounds, it’s a choice that will allow families to grieve and to bury their dead as they are able. I’m glad those grieving will have the burial ceremony that gives them the most peace.
London, United Kingdom created a makeshift hospital that houses up to 4,000 patients, from a convention center. The UK NHS indicated this transformed center would be the first of many.
Ministries of Health and of University and Research Italy expedited the graduation for medical students about to graduate, boosting their healthcare workforce. They intended to allow more senior medical doctors to care for critically ill patients while the new doctors manage less serious cases.
Some locations have nurses working in teams, rather than having assigned patients. They have assigned tasks and patients belong to all. Those with highly specialized training will handle tasks that differ from those who have come from other fields.
This means nurses and patients both avoid the unfair position of giving or receiving inexperienced care. The system creates a community that works together versus patient assignments that can leave you working in your own world.
The realities are tough, but together we will be OK.