In times of international crisis like this it’s very easy to slip into despair. There’s a reason why psychologists are warning people
in physical isolation to stay off social media. As mental health researcher and social worker Gregory Armstrong says, “One of the things that is more contagious than the virus might actually be the panic itself.”
Yet for the most vulnerable Australians – the sick, the elderly, the poor, the homeless – panic might very well be an entirely appropriate response. For some, COVID-19 puts their lives in peril; for others, the collapse of the economy and the strain on public services severely threatens their already tenuous week-to-week existence.
But while government responses to this urgent need have been mixed, people across the country are uniting to provide emergency aid and comfort to each other and their at-risk neighbours.
One example of this is in Canberra, where the Canberra Region Coronavirus Mutual Aid
Facebook group has grown to 2000 members in a matter of days. The group describes itself as “a place to share practical resources, information, create plans and networks of care in the case of social distancing measures, self-isolation, job insecurity; especially to support more vulnerable folks in our community with groceries.”
Group organiser Tamara Ryan, who is also women’s campaign organiser for UnionsACT, told The Canberra Times
the group offered “a systematic approach” with “a centralised pool of what requests people need so they can be answered by others”.
“People are inclined to help others,” Tamara said.
“There’s been a range of demographics helping and offering up ways they can, like older people and younger people as well as students.”
Mutual aid models are springing up all over Australia and the rest of the world. In Chicago, a 19-year-old girl created two Google Forms – one for people who need help and another for people who can help – and circulated them among her networks. They raised $7000
in two days. There’s now an online directory
of over 150 US local mutual aid groups.
, an app that connects people within the same neighbourhood, has created functionality
that allows users to identify themselves as “able to help” – from picking up shopping to walking the dog – during the COVID-19 crisis. You can even print out a flyer and leave it in neighbours’ mailboxes. (Alternatively, for an example a great handmade flyer, click here
While Facebook and apps provide built-for-purpose platforms for connecting with people and organising responses to need, solidarity is taking other forms, too.
In Wales, local councils are recruiting
“an army of volunteers” to deliver essentials and offer emotional support by phone to elderly people and others in isolation.
In Wuhan, at the height of the Chinese epidemic, isolated residents yelled encouragement
to each other and sang songs from their apartment windows in an attempt to boost morale.
In Seville, Spain, a fitness instructor climbed to the rooftop of a building to run an exercise class
for quarantined residents in the opposite apartment block.
Even our very own Woolworths, a company rarely deserving of praise, has stepped up
by offering a dedicated hour of early shopping for elderly and disabled customers before opening stores to others.
We are right to demand that governments do all in their power to protect our health and well-being and prevent total economic collapse, and we know the federal government must do much, much more, like expanding the social safety net and introducing rent holidays for tenants.
But it’s also up to all of us to look out for each other and offer aid where we are able. And you can start by asking a complete stranger one simple question: “Can I help?”
Solidarity is how we’ll get through this. It’s how we always do.
With migrant and ESL workers especially vulnerable right now, the Migrant Workers Centre in Victoria has produced multilingual flyers
containing basic questions that people can print out, add their contact details to and share in their neighbourhoods.
And if you’re worried about the pandemic’s impact on your mental health, or the mental health of a loved one, visit Beyond Blue
or Way Ahead
for helpful resources.