By Adediran Adelekan
The call came in. We need help. We need volunteers.
As the stories flash from every direction, the novel coronavirus, which leads to the COVID-19 illness, has disrupted people’s livelihoods everywhere: millions of students around the world can no longer go to school, many jobs have been lost and our very existence as humans is now threatened by this invisible enemy. According to a UNESCO report, over 160 countries have implemented nationwide school closures, impacting over 87% of the world’s student population. Educators everywhere are trying to pick up the pieces and get something workable online. And, all this was now happening right here in my adoptive home, Łódź.
In this pandemic, the healthcare system is being overwhelmed with desperate people suffering from what is scientifically deemed severe acute respiratory syndrome. These people can barely breathe. There is a dire need for constant medical observation, life-saving drugs, ventilators and bed space. The system is in critical mode. Supplies are severely stretched. As a result, the call for help was – and is – urgent. Volunteers are needed. Donations are needed.
My university, the Medical University of Łódź, jumped into action, ready to assist in the emergency. I am a final-year medical student, an international student from Nigeria, and I signed up to put my education into a real-world situation. My studies have been conducted fully in English, and I have a limited proficiency in Polish. Yet, I also know, this is my opportunity to give something back to the people of Łódź for helping me achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I wanted to volunteer to be on the frontline, caring for patients. Because of my limited Polish, I was put to work in administration at a hospital. I have decent Polish reading skills, and so I’m segregating emails. I’m determined to help in any way I can.
In the midst of this chaos, the effort of many warriors has touched me – us – in the fight against this pandemic. Health workers all over the world have become resilient heroes, showing impeccable courage in the face of this deadly pathogen. Empathy is indeed the highest form of human consciousness. There are many other people who also play a vital role in the fight against this virus, ranging from sanitation workers, drivers, caterers, healthcare administrative workers, to mention a few. Every one of these people fulfil an essential function in supporting the health workers on the front lines.
My volunteer work near the war zone in a Łódź hospital has given me a valuable lesson in life. More than ever, I fully appreciate the great efforts of support workers, the people behind the scenes, often hidden away in the background. There is dignity in all genuine labour and we all collectively contribute, in one form or another, in fighting this pestilent virus, and, overall, giving something of great value back to our society.
There is dignity of labour in these supporting roles. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” These, undoubtedly, are beautiful words to follow.
I encourage everyone, in every little capacity, to contribute their efforts and resources in this fight. In every problem, there is an opportunity to solve the problem. As political activist Eldridge Cleaver once put it: “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” Be a solution!
And, a friendly reminder: Wash your hands frequently, observe social distancing, obey the directives from the health officials.
Adediran Adelekan, an international student from Nigeria, is a graduate of Clark University, and finishing his studies at the Medical University of Łódź.