Compassion in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic

Story: Gautam Viswanathan

A key characteristic of humanity we’ve witnessed during the pandemic is the willingness of people to come together and help those who need it most.

The economic impact of the pandemic has, around the world, severely affected many, with volunteer groups and charitable organisations stepping in to plug the gap and ensure these people continue to have access to basic needs and can live their lives with dignity.

The pandemic has shown just how crucial the kindness of others and our willingness to work together can be in ensuring the care of many who need it, and with 5 September being the United Nations International Day of Charity, it seems as good a time as any to honour those who freely give their time and energy to help others.

In Oman, Dar Al Atta’a, along with a number of other volunteer bodies, has been helping those who’ve felt the economic and social impact of the pandemic. A team of 60 volunteers have been drafted to take care of the needs of those who need assistance at this time. While many are keen to step forward and help, Mayssa Al Hinai, the organisation’s marketing manager, has called for everyone to do their bit so that more people understand the responsibility of giving to others, and so that more people can be helped.

“Many of our volunteers call up people suffering from COVID-19 and ask them what difficulties they are facing,” she says. “They collect this information, and where possible, we try and help these people. We provide food parcels to them, and the delivery of these parcels is also done by volunteers.

“Since the time of the pandemic, these volunteers have worked about 18,000 hours to help people, but we cannot help everybody, because there are too many people who are suffering because of this disease, and our resources are limited,” she adds. “A lot of our volunteers help with fundraising activities and contact companies to help us with donations, some help us generate awareness, others help with our website and social media channels.”

Volunteers are always welcome to join Dar Al Atta’a, because many of them have specialised skills that can be put to good use. If you want to volunteer, and have skills in IT, for example, then you might be asked to help with our website in a technical capacity. If you have good writing skills or communication skills, then you are more than welcome to assist in social media activities, or talk to partners of Dar Al Atta’a’ and the people they help.

“We will never turn a volunteer away,” adds Mayssa. “A lot of those who volunteer with us are students who can only contribute for a certain amount of time, because they have their classes to attend and lessons to learn, but many of the people we work with are young, and below the age of 30. During these troubled times, we will never have too many volunteers, so anyone is welcome to join us.

“When you volunteer, it is not just that you are sharing your skills with someone who needs them and will be grateful for them,” she explains. “It is also that you learn a lot of things. You learn about dedication, perseverance, understanding, compassion, all of these are very important in life, and you grow a lot as a human being, because when you volunteer, you are essentially giving a part of yourself.”

Those who wish to donate money to Dar Al Atta’a can do so on the official website of the Oman Charitable Organisation (OCA), www.donate.om, while those who want to volunteer can approach the charity on their social media channels, in person at any of their offices in the country, or call them over the phone.

While volunteers from Dar Al Atta are helping take care of people’s physical needs, the people from the Psychology of Youth Volunteering Team attempt to ensure their mental health also remains balanced during these testing times.

Comprising of about 63 volunteers, many of whom are licenced psychologists and mental health therapists, the team has made themselves available for people whose current situation has caused them mental anxiety, and have created a lot of resources to guide adults and children at this time.

“One of the biggest challenges people are facing right now is mental stress and anxiety brought about by the uncertainty of their current situation,” says Abeer Abdullah Al Mujaini, the head of psychology at the team. “They don’t know how long the current pandemic conditions will last, and as a result of that, are worried that their jobs are under threat, which makes for a very uncertain future.”

As part of its efforts to provide awareness over child-rearing skills to parents, the team recently launched Wahaj Oman, wahaj being the Arabic word for ‘glow’, while shortly after the pandemic arrived in the country, the team were contracted by the National Youth Commission to develop Tattaman, (‘with you’ in Arabic), a website that provides guidelines concerning mental health to adults.

One of the features of Tattaman is a database of mental health services available around the country, as well as live chat-based counselling services with the Psychology of Youth team’s mental health professionals, providing people the chance to alleviate some of the tension they’ve been feeling.

“We have, during this period, also been organising virtual workshops for parents who were interested in learning about how important it is to provide positive mental development to their children,” says Abeer. “These have been really helpful, because they help in generating awareness towards our initiatives, and also encourage other parents to attend these workshops and improve their skills.

“During the pandemic, we’ve also worked with students who are currently pursuing degrees related to mental health and wellbeing,” she adds. “A lot of the students do have the basics covered, but what many of them have really learned here is how to interact with people who have mental health concerns. When you are a mental health professional, the most important thing is to form a strong connection with your patients, so that they develop the trust required for them to share their thoughts.”

With all of those who work for the Psychology of Youth Volunteering Team under the age of 30, it is an excellent platform for those looking to specialise in mental health to learn through pro bono work. To volunteer, please reach out to the team via their Twitter handle. – [email protected]

September 5th: United Nations International Day of Charity

Global Solidarity to Eradicate Poverty

Charity, like the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy, provides real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies.

Charity can alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in health care, education, housing and child protection. It assists the advancement of culture, science, sports, and the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It also promotes the rights of the marginalized and underprivileged and spreads the message of humanity in conflict situations.

In the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015, the United Nations recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitising and mobilising people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to help others through volunteer and philanthropic activities.

The date of 5 September was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”

Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. In 1928 she went to India, where she devoted herself to helping the destitute. In 1948 she became an Indian citizen and founded the order of Missionaries of Charity in Kolkota (Calcutta) in 1950, which became noted for its work among the poor and the dying in that city.

For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including hospices and homes for the poorest and homeless. Mother Teresa’s work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5th 1997, at 87 years of age.

In recognition of the role of charity in alleviating humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations, as well as of the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including the work of Mother Teresa, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated the 5th of September, the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, as the International Day of Charity.

Source – United Nations