The number of requests for help to our NGO SmartLife was swelling by the day, but so were the number of humanitarians – there was a swarm of sponsors ready to help these people in need, rendered helpless by COVID-19 – and that made us realise how beautiful the world was!

Manjula Ramakrishnan
President, SmartLife, Independent journalist (DUBAI)

It all changed within weeks…the least courtesy the virus could have shown us was to have given us a heads up…instead of the sudden onslaught from all directions, with nowhere to hide. And striking us without as much as a “May I?” Good manners is a thing of the past I guess.
February was the month when things started getting uncomfortable. March was the time when like snails, we all pulled our heads right into our homes, refusing to take a peep outside.
April and May filled our hearts with dread; while June taught us resilience. One day at a time has been the mantra…bounce up we will, for it is hard to keep us down for long.

Grief pouring in gave us perspective
What kept us going…

My husband and I are volunteers with an amazing NGO called SmartLife, a registered body that works with blue-collar workers resident in labour accommodations in Dubai. SmartLife launched a helpline in April for our beneficiaries to reach out to us. Ever since this hit the public eye, the volunteering teams’ phones have not stopped ringing.

The kind of distress stories we were hearing, the grief that was pouring in gave us perspective. And so the past few months have been extremely busy addressing a variety of cases, each united by one common thread – the disaster and trauma that the virus has unleashed on people.

Job losses: once well-heeled families approaching our NGO with embarrassment asking for dry food supplies;

Unpaid blue-collar workers: seeking cooked meals, with no facility to cook their own meals in their labour camps.

Childbirth in the time of COVID
Case of a 38-weeks pregnant woman: her husband had lost his job in February and the couple was struggling to find a hospital that would take her… albeit without the comfort of a maternity insurance cover. The team of volunteers jumped with joy when she delivered a baby girl! It was like we all suddenly became uncles and aunts of this infant totally unknown to us!

Desperately seeking help
Diabetics and hypertensive patients having no means of buying their medicines were asking us for help. Those wanting to go back home were seeking repatriation help from SmartLife…

  • Groups of people who were sleeping on park benches were connected to Government authorities who instantly found them shelter.
  • Desolate and desperate parents reaching out to us, asking for help with unpaid school fees, worried if the online schooling too would stop.
  • Children who were cringing in front of peers over this situation, with hapless parents not knowing which way to turn, which door to knock.

A sneeze is just a sneeze
Panic among the workers about COVID… a sneeze or a cough does not sound a death knell we had to repeatedly reassure them. We connected them to medical counsellors; we ensured they reached out to mental health professionals.

Humanitarians ready to help
The list was growing with each passing day. Each day tested our resolve; we networked, we connected with innumerable humanitarians, we reached out (and still do), unabashed to as many as we could and when we saw the swarm of sponsors ready to help, we realised how beautiful the world was.

Corona made us better people…
Seeing so much misery all around and the way families and blue collar workers were trooping through it all, we refused to complain. Stoic acceptance of the situation was the first positive step. Smiling through it all was the next best step.

Helping others helped us enormously; there was nary a moment when we sat down to whine or whinge, for our NGO kept us rooted, gave us perspective.

Missing daughters and grandkids
On the personal front…

After four full months of staying at home, the inhabitants of our home have not killed each other!

We miss the daughters and the grandkids; their rare, sanitised visits give us such leaps of joy. They are worried if the inevitable hugs and kisses would compromise our health, we being senior citizens. And so, they occasionally breeze in and out with their children, leaving behind enticing traces of such visits – a Lego piece dug out from under the couch, a tiny pink hair clip dropped on the bathroom floor – leaving us with a sigh and a home full of their smells, waiting in anticipation for the next time when laughter would fill our home again.

Hope to live to tell the tale
Post corona world…

Let us not be in denial! Let us not get ahead of ourselves… let us wake up and smell the coffee!!

We would not have become saints! We would not have learnt our lessons!

We will still happily cut trees, we will still make wars; we will still be the human beings we once were before the virus made us weak-kneed.

But then the glimmer of hope is that we were never bad people to start with, just a mixed-up lot who would obediently toe the line with that occasional rap on the knuckle but never expected a resounding whack in the form of this pandemic. Ouch! That hurt! And so, we will just as well muddle along going forward too.

Assuming we thumb our noses at the virus and live to tell our tales!

(*)
Title from: What a Wonderful World – By American trumpeter, composer, vocalist and actor Louis Armstrong – one of the most influential figures in jazz.

“I see trees of green, red roses too/ I see them bloom for me and you/ And I think to myself what a wonderful world!” (Net)