People wait in line as volunteers from City Harvest distribute food in New York City's Harlem on March 28, 2020, as the economic fallout from Covid-19 affects thousands of New Yorkers. Photo: AFP / Kena Betancur

Wars produce unlikely heroes. Ivan Pavlovich, a cook in the Red Army’s 91st Tank Regiment, charged out of his field kitchen in a Latvian forest near Dvinsk to capture a Panzer and four German troops in World War II. Tennessee farmer Sergeant Alvin York captured 132 German soldiers en masse in the Meuse–Argonne offensive of World War I. In the pandemic world war, Citizen Joe serves as a crucial hero in Covid-19 relief.

They serve through small acts of kindness, such as Connecticut teacher Luciana Lira caring for an infant whose entire family tested positive for Covid-19. The generous-hearted John Does’, Joes’ and Jills’ relief work helped the world closer to post-pandemic days.

unsung heroes providing Covid-19 relief
Mask-making young volunteers in Covid-19 relief work at the Goyang Volunteer Center, Goyang, South Korea. Photo: Courtesy GVC

Governments, aid agencies could not have delivered Covid-19 relief to millions without volunteers and community initiatives.

The worst of times produce the best of humanity – beyond the other extreme of Covid-19-related harassment and discrimination.

Few things are nobler, stronger in this troubled world than the volition of a volunteer serving expecting nothing in return.

A World War II hero turned hero again in the pandemic war. Captain Tom Moore, who turned 100 years old on April 30, raised the equivalent of US$40 million for the National Health Service (NHS), the United Kingdom’s publicly funded health-care provider.

During the Hitler war, Captain Moore served with the 145th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps in Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), and Arakan (Myanmar); 76 years later he aimed to raise £1,000 ($1,230) for the NHS walking a hundred 25-meter laps around the small garden of his house in Bedfordshire – 10 laps daily with a walking frame.

Instead, he walked 100 laps and within weeks raised a total of more than £32.79 million – some $40 million. For perspective, Captain Moore’s Covid-19 relief effort for the NHS is $11.3 million more than the $28.7 million China is to pay the World Health Organization.

Captain Moore received deserving acclaim, including a Royal Air Force flypast over his house on his 100th birthday with vintage World War II Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft.

Some Citizen Joes received more modest but heartfelt recognition, such as the taxi driver in Madrid who ferried patients for free to the hospital. One day, the hospital staff asked him in and gave him a surprise:

But Citizen Joe offers Covid-19 relief without expecting recognition and rewards: grocery shopping for the elderly, ensuring food for the needy, contributing personal protective equipment for emergency service workers.

Children helped too. Five-year-old Aranya Dutt Bedi raised 100,000 rupees ($1,327) to help feed the underprivileged in Delhi, through selling her illustrated book for children Be Calm with Coronavirus.

As part of Covid-19 relief, volunteers at the Vipassana Research Institute are working to offer free online Anapana meditation classes, including for children above 10 years.

Anapana, a non-sectarian mind-strengthening exercise, only uses one’s natural respiration (incoming, outgoing breath, as it is) to concentrate the wildly wandering mind. The free online Anapana sessions have received a big response since it helps cope with anxiety and stress these difficult days.

Small contributions make a big difference

No steely Superman and cranky Avengers to rescue humankind from the Covid-19 demon, but good-hearted Citizen Joe does his vital bit. It included school alumni groups.

“It is almost like a viral relief effort to tackle a virus,” Ashwin Rajagopalan said in an e-mail. “When we started this [Covid-19] relief work we found we are just one of many organizations chipping in. The number helping out is amazing.”

As president of the Don Bosco Past Pupils Association (DBPPA) of Don Bosco School, Egmore, in Chennai, Rajagopalan coordinated voluntary efforts and donations to help hundreds of families of stranded migrant workers – among those worst-affected by a nationwide lockdown.

With Mohammed Shadaan, Vikas Kripalani and P Nandanadan, the DBPPA worked with the school management and alumni worldwide to donate groceries to migrant workers.

The Don Bosco, Egmore, school motto Virtuis in Arduis in Latin means “Strength through Hardship.”

Don Bosco Egmore alumni and workers with a truck of Covid-19 relief supplies for migrant workers in southern India.

Food security for the poor and villagers must be guaranteed during the lockdown, e-mailed Francis Bosco, director of the Chennai-based Don Bosco Migrant Services. Voluntary efforts contributed, making less difficult the strangest days of our lifetime.

“The key message that has helped is that even small contributions make a big difference,” said Rajagopalan. “Each small project has ranged from 30,000 to 60,000 rupees [up to $800]. If more alumni and other groups can do this, it will make a big difference.”

Small contributions help not only humans but animals in distress too, such as starving elephants in Thailand affected with the virus crisis keeping tourists away.

Better to light a small candle to help fellow beings than to curse the confusing darkness.

Mumbai-based Raja Murthy has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990 and earlier for the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden and others. He studied in Don Bosco, Egmore.