This time has been difficult, and the moment calls upon local champions to respond to the challenges of a new COVID world. As part of the 40 Neighbours Campaign, Who is Hussain teams around the world have stepped up to support their communities.
Covid-19 has turned the world upside down, threatening the health and safety of all and exacerbating existing hardships for many. The lockdown has added to the economic stresses of the poor and working-class members of our communities. Our healthcare workers experienced a sudden and urgent need for medical equipment and PPE. The distance between us grew, and the burden of isolation spanned farther than six feet.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is key to slowing the spread of the virus, especially for those of us who cannot isolate. Essential labourers such as those working in agriculture, food, delivery, public transport, and factories put themselves in harm’s way each day to support their families and serve their community in the face of economic hardship.
At the very forefront of this fight are medical workers. When the first major wave of the pandemic hit in March, demand for supplies such as ventilators and N95 masks skyrocketed, along with prices, prompting concerted efforts to equip hospitals in need. Since then, efforts have dwindled, while the need remains. This lack is likely to persist as primary care offices and specialist facilities reopen.
In the U.S., the inadequate federal response has left states scrambling to equip their own hospitals. The result is that ill-protected healthcare workers are fighting at the front lines. One study revealed that American and British medical workers’ risk of testing positive for Covid-19 is 12 times higher than that of the general public.
New York has established itself as a major national epicentre of the pandemic. There, Who is Hussain volunteers are responding to the needs of their local hospitals. Sayed Ali Hassan reports that the NYC/NJ Who is Hussain team has donated over 2,000 masks to three New Jersey Hospital emergency rooms and one New York City Hospital emergency room. In addition to masks, volunteers showed their appreciation by buying meals and snacks for the medical staff food and snacks. Zahra (NYC/NJ) describes the experience of giving back to, “the healthcare workers working overtime while risking their lives to protect our community members,” calling them, “truly inspiring.”
Barriers to Education
To minimize the spread of Covid-19, governments around the world shut down their schools. As a result, over 60% of the world’s student population was impacted. Back in February, schools in Hong Kong, Macao, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Italy were among the first of school closures. Since then, many other nations have followed suit.
Where possible, educators transitioned to remote learning. But online education presented a whole host of new challenges. For one, not all students have access to a computer and reliable internet connection. This shed light on existing disparities in technological resources that may not have been considered otherwise. Practicality aside, virtual classrooms also put a strain on the mental and social wellbeing of children.
Sitting in front of a screen often does not make for an enriching learning experience. Many students struggle with understanding material and staying motivated. The NYC/NJ team is part of a national initiative undertaken by Who is Hussain teams across America. A leader of the Education for All campaign, Sayed Ali Hassan (NYC?NJ) says, “We believe that education is a necessity, so we created this initiative to provide free tutoring for all students from middle school to high school in all subjects.”
Students rely on schools to fulfil a number of needs outside of learning. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 30 million children nationwide rely on schools for at least one meal a day. Without free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs, childhood hunger is at an all-time high.
Covid-19 is threatening livelihoods. The International Labour Organization estimates that the pandemic has put approximately one-third of the globe’s labourers out of work. More and more people are struggling to put food on the table. Where before 135 million people suffered from acute hunger, according to the World Food Program, the number is expected to be double that in the current coronavirus crisis. Many are turning to overwhelmed food banks for help.
Now more than ever, food banks are in need of our contributions. Who is Hussain Netherlands is engaging their online community in a campaign to keep local food pantries well-stocked. They assembled food packers and encouraged their followers to join them in collecting food items and making individual donations to their neighbourhood food bank.
Food insecurity is hitting one particular demographic hard: the homeless members of our communities. In New York City, Who is Hussain volunteers fundraised to provide 40 pizzas and other food items to homeless shelters in the area. You can learn more about homelessness and Covid-19 here.
Clean Water & Hygiene
Maintaining proper hygiene is essential to staying healthy. The CDC has released guidelines to ensure safe and clean home and work environments. These include keeping surfaces clean and sanitized, washing your clothes, and scrubbing your hands for twenty seconds when washing. These simple precautions can keep you and the people you come in contact with protected against the virus. But for some, the lack of access to clean water acts as a major barrier to safety.
Globally, 785 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. Over 2 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Who is Hussain volunteer Fatema describes that “Lack of clean water is one of the biggest problems people face. We have witnessed people using rainwater that has been sitting for days, and infected with insects and dirt. This led us to our first water well project.” The Dar es Salaam team raised a remarkable $16,000 to build a 160 meter deep, solar-powered water well. The project will provide clean water to upwards of 6,000 people.
Refugees & Asylum Seekers
Even during a pandemic, other global emergencies like the refugee crisis persist. Refugees and asylum seekers have been rendered even more vulnerable. Malnourishment reduced access to essential services, and poor medical care means that the nearly 71 million forcibly displaced people are at an elevated risk of both contracting and succumbing to the virus. With cases present in 134 refugee-hosting countries, it has become even harder for recently-welcomed refugees to find their footing in their new homes.
One such host country is the Netherlands, which granted asylum to 94,000 people in 2019. In recognizing the additional hardships posed by the pandemic, Who is Hussain Netherlands will be partnering with a larger Dutch public benefit organization on what they call “The Diversity Project.” As part of this initiative, volunteers will work closely with refugees to identify what they need to build their new lives. With the help of local partners, they plan to help them sort out transportation, living, work, and study arrangements. Mohammed (Netherlands) says the aim is to, “help someone better integrate into a society which can support them as they go on.” Because new migrants often depend on public transport, the team also sewed and distributed 72 home-made masks for them to don on their commute.
Social distancing and shelter in place orders have kept us from seeing one another, making it difficult to maintain a sense of togetherness. But one tool proved to be a lifeline for many of us suffering from feelings of isolation: social media. It has allowed us to stay connected with our loved ones and engage in meaningful interactions from a distance.
Meesamali, Who is Hussain rep from Zanzibar describes that there, social media provided a way for the community to check on one another, and make sure their neighbours are safe and healthy. He describes that “Despite lockdown and isolation, seeing how we managed to stay connected with our loved ones and hold community events was astonishing.”
Care homes closed their doors to visitors for a few months, and loneliness weighed heavily on their elderly residents. In the Netherlands, Who is Hussain volunteers tried their best to make their elders feel loved and remembered by setting up phone calls and sending handwritten postcards.
Of course, our teams and volunteers are not immune to the physical, social, and economic stresses of the pandemic. Meesamali (Zanzibar team) says that initially
“The fear of the disease hit us all and we almost put a stop to all our events. Some of us have young children, live with our grandparents, and have family members with health issues. However, the community needed us more, and that’s part of the reason why Who is Hussain exists. So after taking all the necessary precautions, we faced our fears.”
Though wrought with challenges, this time has presented us with a unique opportunity to stand together (6 feet apart). This moment has called upon us to collectively agree to sacrifice for the sake of the most vulnerable members of society, and, by and large, we have answered.
We show a train car full of New Yorkers we care about them by wearing a mask on the subway.
We tell our neighbours in Dar es Salaam to be well with clean water.
We appreciate just how essential our grocery store clerks, bus drivers, and delivery workers are.
Amidst a pandemic, good people like our Who is Hussain volunteers are working hard to uplift communities all around the world. Like Mohammed (Netherlands), we draw hope from the idea that “People are looking out for each other. We care about each other despite our differences.”