Instead of sitting at home and complaining, many Shanghai citizens have acted swiftly to help themselves and reach out to their neighbors during this difficult time, while their city has been besieged by a flare-up of the COVID-19 pandemic and normal life has come to a stop in order to thwart the shocking attacks from the Omicron variant.
While working from home and trying their best to shop for groceries and other daily necessities online, some have come to the conclusion that old Chinese wisdom has taught us long ago: A distant relative cannot be compared to a close neighbor, who will extend their helping hand in times of need.
My sister-in-law, who lives in Pudong New Area in Shanghai, said the pandemic has strengthened the bond among her neighbors, who share their extra eggs, flour, fruits and condiments with each other and make group purchases together. Such stories abound in every corner of the city.
Young professionals have become leaders of community WeChat groups, as they organize group purchases, streamline the last-mile delivery process, and reach out to those in need, especially the elderly and disabled.
A Chinese medicine practitioner surnamed Shao is the head of her group of neighbors in Zhongshanyuan housing estate in Xuhui District. Around her have gathered more than 20 young volunteers. They work in various teams, responsible for checking information, shopping online, arranging for nucleic acid tests, offering basic medical help and last-mile deliveries.
Their first purchase included 200 N95 masks and other protective gear that would protect the volunteers as they serve the neighbors. Someone designed a mini program, which enables any WeChat group member to alert the volunteers at one click in emergencies such as when a chronic disease sufferer runs out of medicine.
It takes not only quick wits and professional skills, but passion and energy as well, to work voluntarily for your neighbors. Another WeChat group leader, a 25-year-old designer surnamed Cai, said she worked between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. almost nonstop one day, only napping for two hours in between, to complete a successful group purchase of vegetables. She quickly came up with a table with the room numbers of the neighbors and their individual purchases, then rearranged the sequences according to the floors so that the delivery volunteers could efficiently do their job.
Another group leader, 45-year-old Qu Bo, started a "helping the elderly" project in her housing estate. Some 20 young people reached out to households that consist only of senior citizens in the community. The young now help the elderly buy groceries and also do other chores.
Many also helped online. Someone came up with a website called "Let Us Help You" (www.daohouer.com), where people can leave information about their urgent needs and contacts so that others with the right resources can help. Another compiled a "Fighting COVID At-home Guide" providing tips on almost every subject, like how to preserve your food, how to cope with psychological issues and where to buy medicine.
While the COVID pandemic has posed threats and challenges to everyone, it's inspirational to see what some of us have done to contribute to their communities. John Donne once wrote: No man is an island/ Entire of itself/ Every man is a piece of continent/ A part of the main.
The pandemic has wreaked such harm, yet hopefully, we can keep its legacy of helping each other and finding closer bonds with our neighbors.
(The author is an editor of the Features Department of Shenzhen Daily.)