The novel coronavirus has smacked us right in the face with great uncertainty. The world thrives on planning for the future, often ignoring the present. This virus brought the world to a standstill and compelled everyone to work together and live in the present. The general functioning of systems is being questioned with great force, at the international level as well as the individual level. To the virus, all may seem equal, but in society, the lowest section has suffered the most. But while the world paused, Nature breathed and people united.
My experience of volunteering during the lockdown reflects these phenomena, igniting hope for a better tomorrow.
As soon as the lockdown was announced and the threat of the virus overtook our lives, a group of volunteers was formed to serve the Ashram community in Pondicherry, a large number of members of which are over 60 and vulnerable. An orientation was held for all volunteers to inform them about the dangers, the protocols and the attitude to adopt during the emergency. The major task was to deliver food on a daily basis to 1300 people spread across town in a short period of time, as the curfew was still in force. We worked in mission mode to ensure all were taken care of.
Everyone who participated- with ages ranging from 21 to 60- was associated with the Ashram in some way. It was a beautiful collaboration of the young and the old; each contributing selflessly in the task at hand.
A community that worked continuously even on Sundays had suddenly paused and Ashramites had to stay home. This felt unfamiliar, restrictive and unnatural. However, by staying at home, they began to spend more time with those living in the same building and were delighted to see us bring them food. Just as they were reconnecting with some people, so was the extended community of the volunteers reconnecting with them. The smiles shared during delivery or the few words exchanged brought everyone closer together.
This exercise adapted to the evolving situation; from delivering full meals every day to providing ration so Ashramites could cook at home lest a more stringent lockdown was implemented. Soon, the farms also required help as workers were asked not to come anymore. Naturally, farm work cannot be stopped, even with the paralysis of the world system. Cows have to be fed and milked, crops have to be harvested, and fields have to be watered. So, some of us went and worked at the farms. This increased our appreciation for the thankless work done by farmers. With all external workers away, it was the volunteers team that practically ran the self-sufficient Ashram community. This feeling of solidarity only grew with time.
What was amazing and heartening to observe was the organic formation of the whole team and the tasks performed by each member. There was sincerity and purpose; hence, even someone who ran a factory of 1000+ workers was on the ground delivering food door to door. In any other scenario, he may have been heading the exercise but here there was selfless giving. The higher aspiration that brought everyone together enabled the initiative to work- not due to external incentives, but due to internal sincerity and selflessness. Seeing this is a source of much hope.
It is with these small efforts at creating ripples that we can hope a wave may be formed in the world; shifting away from the old normal, to usher in novel ways of living. Some signs are already visible geo-politically (not being dependent only on China for manufacturing), economically (work from home becoming mainstream), socially (generation of local employment to reduce migration for cheap labour) and individually (people spending more time with family and the self). While most news related to COVID is depressing, let’s take a moment to also appreciate the positives that are also in front of us.
Educationist. Convinced that education can create a better tomorrow. Volunteer at a COVID task force. Pondicherry is home.