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I volunteered as a Corona Warrior during the lockdown period from 23rd March until 17th May and continue to volunteer towards covid-19 efforts. The blog came into being through several questions posed by friends, well-wishers and colleagues. This is only the start of my experiences, observations and take-aways. There is so much that I decided to write a series called Rapid Teaming.

A motley set of common citizens come together, rapidly form a team and deliver in 2-weeks. This team of about 60 members quickly established trust within itself and with authorities to address an area of approximately 18sqkm covering about 5 lakh people. We all knew one thing, we had to act quickly. 1000’s had lost their source of income and were faced with starvation. Arranging for food and supplies, and setting up distribution chains became one of our first goals. Running in parallel were tasks like ensuring social distancing at essential supply shops, creating awareness amongst shopkeepers, discouraging people from gathering in groups and re-assuring people who asked incessant questions arising from fear and uncertainty. What made this happen? What galvanized common people into selfless acts of giving, kindness and compassion?

We are in the midst of a pandemic that has held the world in a choke-hold, respite-less, as yet. Our group came together with a few volunteers who turned up at our local police station on the 27th of March, after receiving group messages on WhatsApp and Telegram. We had no idea what we would be doing and neither did the police or other government officials know what to do with us corona warriors. We were issued an ID card by a government authority that allowed us to move freely and work with authorities and simply got started.

Here is a summary of what happened on the ground

  • Day 1 & 2 –
    • A representative of our volunteer group became a SPOC interfacing with police and local civic. This person had previously worked with disaster relief groups and knew how to hold point.
    • A few tech savvy volunteers began geo tagging needy people using a maps feature developed a spreadsheet to capture information within our area jurisdiction limit.
    • The police saw what we were doing and immediately pitched in to help with their knowledge of the area, small hotels, essentials shops.
    • The map helped to identify and setup the supply chain of food makers, ration suppliers & recipients.

Pic: Geo Tagging of Essential Supplies shops & Needy People

  • Day 3 – cooked food distribution began along with ration for those who could cook with the police station acting as central receiving and distribution point.
  • Day 5 – Nearly 75% of needy people tagged
  • Day 8 – 2 kalyana mantaps/marriage halls opened up for ease of food & ration distribution
  • Day 10 – Nearly 90% of needy people tagged and covered for cooked food & supplies & nearly 30,000 meals were being served each day. Another 50 more volunteers came on board.
  • Day 11 onwards – volunteers expanded work with joint patrolling alongside police, creating awareness around social distancing, helping shops handle crowds and helping senior citizens with specific needs.
  • Continuing till date – Helping out of state workforce prepare to go home and blood donation camps. Our group has become the first point of contact for police for civilian assistance needed in the area.

Pic: Sample representation of the service flow for food and ration distribution

What I saw in action between volunteers, police and local civic body, with no prior plan around team formation, norms, purpose or goal setting nor any organized or structured mode of working

  • Trust and respect for each other established very quickly
  • High sense of ownership with volunteers fearlessly raising hands to take up tasks and complete them.
  • Support from authorities to clear obstacles quickly
  • Service flows rapidly established with constant tuning for efficiency
  • Empowering people at local level
  • Having each other’s backs, no blaming or fault finding, only continuous learning and improvement
  • Empathy and perhaps first time in depth understanding of how authorities function and their challenges.
  • A deep sense of connection with the present with letting go of the past and future and of hope, in terms of accepting uncertainty and letting go of certainty

The team came into being by itself, entirely self-managed, highly collaborative & fully engaged with only focusing on doing completely without thinking of results or outcomes

What I take away

  • Disaster or pandemic brings out the best in us, contrary to sensational and mostly sad stories we read in the news and cynicism in ourselves. The quarantine has enabled us to accept help from others. A common higher purpose has brought us together and built a strong bond.
  • Humans are fundamentally a community with social connections a desire to stand together and support each other.
  • Kindness, hope, and charity are spreading, more than the virus itself.
  • Massive sharing of goods and services. In our area hardly anyone was without food was testimony to a selfless energy that fueled food donations.
  • We can start reversing our cynical portrayal of human nature. The manner in which legislation is drafted has to change to reflect dependence, community and solidarity instead of inequality, loneliness and mistrust.
  • Strong belief in each other as humans. It is possible for total strangers to come together at anytime to help and serve our communities. It takes a little faith in yourself to take the first step and show up.

I feel this experience has changed me forever. I have a few questions that I would leave readers with along with a few quotes from reference articles that I felt resonated with my experience.

  • Can we challenge our impressive human brain power to get people to treat each other with respect & compassion?
  • Can we teach kindness and caring rather than academic or curriculum driven subjects to our children?
  • Can we live collectively and collaboratively across all levels of society – including government both local and national?

With an uncertain future ahead marked by deepening divisions and climate change, the many examples of collective relief and recovery efforts can serve as a blueprint for how to move forward and rebuild with a radical resilience. They can also provide a glimpse of another world, one marked by empowered communities filled with more connection, purpose, and meaning.” (https://www.shareable.net/disaster-collectivism-how-communities-rise-together-to-respond-to-crises/)

“We know that we’re capable of achieving temporary comity and peace. Our critical challenge is to make this an overriding goal for humanity, without the “need” for tragic disasters. If we can accomplish this, we indeed do have a chance to enhance our lives, and to survive as a species.”( https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/our-emotional-footprint/201709/do-we-humans-need-tragedies-bring-us-together)

In conclusion, the above “wisdoms” cannot take away how difficult it is going to be to recover, if we ever will, but it brings a lot of strength and reminders that you are not alone. I have only summarized or skimmed through my experience and I am sure many readers would have questions on “how” all this worked or didn’t. Please stay tuned for the next in this series of my experiences as a corona warrior. Please also write in with your questions and your stories.

Further reading:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-stress-of-disaster-brings-people-together/

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/one-incredibly-wise-writer-reveals-how-disasters-bring-out-the-best-of-us/

https:// ideas.ted.com/disasters-and-crises-bring-out-the-best-in-us/