Volunteers Highlight Importance of Mental Health amidst COVID-19 pandemic
Being separated from loved ones causes a great deal of anxiety and stress especially during a health crisis where isolation is necessary. Amid the current COVID-19 quarantine situation in Qatar, there is one initiative that allows workers who have been quarantined to virtually interact with someone, speak in their native language, and share their anxieties.
The Connecting for Care Project (CFC) offers an interactive website (https://cfc.qa) that brings together volunteers and quarantined workers for friendly conversations and support.
One of the volunteers Sumedha De Silva said:
Those who come to chat seem to be happy with the service… I feel like they were relieved to talk to someone who empathised with them and also gave them some information that they did not previously know.
De Silva has been volunteering with Reach Out To Asia – a program of Education Above All (EAA) and key partner in the CFC Project – since October 2017. Alongside De Silva, 60 other ROTA-EAA Volunteers have been actively resourcing the CFC website. From wanting to ‘make a difference, however small, in the world’ to ‘genuinely wanting to help people’, these volunteers are passionate about their cause.
For Ranjiv Abraham, another ROTA-EAA Volunteer, his experience with the CFC Project has been both challenging and rewarding. He is involved in ‘translation, proof reading, and fine-tuning the platform apart from the regular chat support for workers.’
Speaking about his experience with CFC, he said:
One of the workers was concerned regarding the availability of food and medicine for his sickly parents due to the lockdown in India. I shared the contact information of various NGOs that could help in his locality and he was very thankful.
Abraham also acknowledged that workers felt good when being listened to. He added that it is one of the ‘most important things people are missing in their busy daily lives and it’s hard to find someone to confide in.’
A study titled ‘Mental health outcomes of quarantine and isolation for infection prevention: A systematic umbrella review of the global evidence’ has indicated that individuals or populations who were quarantined or isolated have exhibited severe mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress and depression. Globally, there is widespread concern about people’s mental health during quarantine with the United Nations calling for mental health to be treated as a core element of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Silva noted that the project has provided some sort of relief to the workers during this trying time. He also adds that it is important to make the workers feel that they are being cared for by the government, irrespective of their work or visa status and that ‘they can depend on the Qatar government for assistance during this difficult time.’
The CFC website offers live one-on-one chats in ten languages, namely English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Bengali, Malayalam, Sinhala, Tamil, and Filipino. Needless to say, speaking to someone in their native language facilitates easier and more effective communication.
Another ROTA-EAA Volunteer Asiya Shafi said:
I’ve noticed that the visitors are happy to know that they can speak to someone in their language… I have been chatting sessions with workers in Hindi, and in almost all conversations I have been told that they feel calm being able to voice their concerns and be responded to in their language.
In a session, Shafi says, she came across a visitor who complained that he had trouble sleeping because of unknown reasons. Shafi added that many people can relate to the weight of the worries along with the lack of physical activity which can affect sleeping patterns. She said she suggested some exercises to keep the visitor active. She also recommended visiting a healthcare professional if he continued feeling that way.
Volunteering in a crisis situation, while being a rewarding experience, can also be psychologically challenging. Shafi says that the experiences do weigh her down, and she knows that there’s a limit to how much she can do.
We can’t fix all the concerns that are brought to our attention, all we can do is support them with a kind word or point out the resources that would be useful for them. But I constantly worry if I have done enough to support each visitor.
Thinking of his biggest takeaway from volunteering in the CFC Project, Abraham concluded that ‘our problems are often small in comparison to those of the workers’, so let’s be thankful and stay positive. Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.’