Blog in the time of Covid-19- a think-aloud by Wendy Arnold
30th April 2020
BLOG IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 – a think-aloud
Wendy Arnold (co-Founder of ELT Consultants)
[photo: sustainable innovation in the time of an air-borne pandemic]
We keep being reminded by our governments and Press that we are going through ‘unprecedented’ times. Never in history has the world come to a stand-still like the present one they keep telling us. Well that’s not actually true! What is true is that never before have we been able to connect with each other and have so much access to information, including being able to evaluate what we are told by our governments.
In the future, whenever that will be, most of us will recover from this global pandemic and we will without a doubt remember where we were, who we were with and what we did during this time. I’m convinced it will change society in the short-term, what medium to long-term changes will happen is up to us. We are being given a chance to change, whether we take it or not is up to us.
Plagues have given writers food for thought and content throughout the ages, some include:
Charles Dickens writing about ‘the white plague’ (TB) in Victorian times (1800’s) that killed nearly a quarter of the population of Europe. In 2020 the population of Europe is 747,558,918, so the equivalent 18,688,972 people! Imagine that death rate. As I write this blog the total number of deaths to Covid-19 globally is 3,229,966. So this ‘nasty’ has a way to go.
Franz Kafka’s work integrated realism and the fantastic …’ It typically features isolated protagonists facing bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible socio-bureaucratic powers. It has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity….’, one being ‘The Metamorphosis’ in 1915.
Albert Camus wrote The Plague in 1947 where the concept of ‘plague’ is explored as both literal and metaphorical. Camus explores the ‘human condition’ which is basically our destiny of birth, growth, emotion, aspiration, conflict and mortality, or the ‘meaning of life’.
Jose Saramago wrote Blindness in 1995 about an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness which afflicted nearly everyone in an unnamed city. Social breakdown followed very quickly
So what I would like to explore are themes of: pandemics, how society responds as a whole and individually, how this impacts our bureaucratic systems and basically what it means to be human.
I was born in Lima, Peru and lived in Quito and then Guayaquil, Ecuador until I was 10 years old before going to Scotland (where my mother was from) and then England (where my father would work in London). This experience has underpinned a lot of how I view the world. Extreme poverty was no surprise, I saw it every day as I travelled to school, terrorism was no surprise, there were many days that we could not cross the city as there were bomb explosions, inequality was no surprise as even at a young age I could see the difference between those who lived in shanty towns and where I lived. Surprisingly racism I only encountered when I arrived in England. The concept of inequality, as I’ve mentioned above, was very clear but what I had not understood was that this was more to do with race than anything else. Of course, a child’s perception of what is racism will be different to an adult’s, but colour and being seen to be ‘different’ in any way jumps at you when it is directed at you.
With my husband’s career we have been privileged to live in Cairo, Egypt for 3 years where two of our daughters were born. A further 17 years in Hong Kong where all 3 daughters were educated and a very strange 17 months in Las Vegas, USA. Not surprisingly again living in these countries has impacted on my view of life. Again, extreme poverty was no surprise, but the concept of more financially able countries helping to develop was learnt. As an engineer, my husband has specialised in both clean and dirty water tunnels, something that we all take for granted living in the ‘developed’ world, but still a far distant dream for 785 million people who don’t have clean water close to home in 2020! That is 1 in 10 of the world’s population.
We were living in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS pandemic. I taught for 3 months wearing a surgical face mask, we also had a shut down as the government found a way to control the outbreak. It was frightening living near the hospital where many of the casualties were taken, with local parents working there and daily reports of deaths amongst the patients and medical healthcare workers. But we survived and during the most recent pandemic Covid-19 HK is one of the places who has managed to control the outbreak.
As an ELT Consultant I have been extremely privileged to travel the world and meet the most wonderful teachers working in ‘somewhat’ challenging conditions, it’s actually all relevant to the context and what is considered challenging in one is not in another. But what has jumped at me is the continued disparity between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have not’s’ of what are considered basic human rights, identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals SDG’s).
LIFE DURING COVID-19
Other than when I travel overseas for work or holiday my day to day life has not really changed much as I work from home, so I am very happy with my own company, together with the three cats.
What has changed is sharing my office with my husband who is now very happily and easily having long, complicated meetings online discussing details of the ‘supersewer’ construction in London. A big relief to both of us as he has a lung condition which has made commuting increasingly difficult and with the virus being rampant in London he’s considered ‘vulnerable’. And I LOVE working alongside him as now I know what he does, and he knows what I do!
I was initially invited to volunteer online teaching of English for Palestine Grade 4 by The Hands Up Project, and then offered to do Grade 1 to 3 as well. I LOVE this too! At last I’m in touch with the very people who are impacted by the materials, the children and the parents. I’m practising what I preach as I’m the author of the Grade 1 to 6 in the series.
Encouraged by the use of the Facebook LIVE feature I decided to explore some of my passions in ELT. This being Learning how to Read and Making and using teaching resources. Again, these are purely volunteer roles. And I’m LOVING it. Again because I’m in touch with teachers and parents, the very people who can make a difference.
Workwise I’m helping to develop concepts for proposals to support those who are still nowhere near the 20th Century advances in the developed world, little less 21st Century! I’m not a do-gooder by the way, it just really bothers me that so much lip-service is paid to supporting the developing world with half-baked projects!
Seeing calls from my sister who’s a nurse and the local community for people to make masks, visors and scrubs, my husband and I are lending our inexperienced hands at making masks and visors.
I’m seeing my local community coming together as a village, supporting each other by making sure that elderly and vulnerable villagers have access to food, prescriptions, someone to talk to. People are volunteering because a need has been identified and they are answering that call. This says a lot about human need and response.
I’m becoming a ‘domestic goddess’! I’m enjoying the simpler things in life, like cooking, I’ve always cooked from ‘scratch’ using basic ingredients but I’m now making my own bread, lemonade, wild garlic pesto (from foraging) and I LOVE it!
LIFE AFTER COVID-19
So my topics of interest are:
They are a reality, they have occurred throughout the history of mankind, most not recorded but since the middle ages they have been recorded. All of these viruses are now under control: typhoid, smallpox (eradicated), bubonic plague, leprosy, measles, cholera, Russian flu, Spanish flu and Asian flu. In my lifetime (since 1958) there have been: HIV/AIDS (1981), SARS (2003) and now COVID-19 (2019). Most of the viruses have either been eradicated, a vaccine has been discovered or control measures have worked.
But what is clear is that some human beings are still slow to respond for a myriad of reasons, more worryingly the impact on the financial sector rather than the impact on the human beings.
How society responds as a whole and individually
Communities across the world are helping each other. They are not waiting to be told what to do. At a micro and macro level they are extending their hands to support the elderly and vulnerable. Self-help groups are appearing out of nowhere, sometimes supporting local government initiatives but many times people in the community getting together and working strategies out themselves.
Individuals are volunteering their skills and even attempting new skills for the greater good. Where a need is identified, people are stepping in, no matter what their profession in pre-Covid 19. Accountants, finance directors, business leaders are stepping in to share the roles of community delivery drivers, phoning elderly people in self-isolation for a chat, basically supporting each other.
How this impacts our bureaucratic systems
Listening to the daily reports from the UK government has been a frightening experience. A litany of false information, covering up failures, back-tracking and basically making one feel like we are on a rudderless ship! Thank goodness for the NHS because without them and their response, with medical workers and other hospital workers putting their life at risk, the death toll would be much higher.
A lot of trust has been lost in the current state of the bureaucratic systems. A global pandemic is one of the emergencies that has been high up on the agenda and contingency plans are supposed to have been made to protect the communities. These have woefully been underfunded and adequately planned for and when the current situation normalises questions will be asked!
What it means to be human
We are born, we have a chance to make a difference if we want to, and we die.
It’s the middle part that interests me and how people respond to threats. I’ve witnessed a lot of ‘takers’ who are only interested if there’s a financial outcome, which is fine as everyone has to support themselves. But during a global pandemic this is the time to find ways to extend a hand to others and there are a multitude of ways to do that.
I’ve also seen lots of ‘giver’s’ sharing or learning new skills in order to be useful.
This pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people. The incidents of domestic violence have increased for women and men, as well as children, which seems to indicate the scale of the problem with a charity in the UK reporting a 700% increase in calls for help. The stress levels in households has increased as parents have to take over the duties of teaching their children, alongside other skills they have had to learn.
The world will continue to have the threat of pandemics, it is something we have to accept. However, there are ways to mitigate these threats by changing our behaviour towards the other living beings on our plant, such as the natural world. We have some hard questions to ask ourselves and some of them will be difficult to answer.
1. Should humans be eating wild animals as a ‘delicacy or for perceived medicinal purposes’?
NOTE: the italics, some of the pandemics have historically started with viruses moving from animals to humans.
2. How accountable are governments (bucreaucrats) to protect the populations against the threat of global pandemics?
3. Has there been a social breakdown in your context?
Why? How could this be stopped?
Why not? What do you think is in place that stopped this happening?
4. Does Covid-19 make people more anxious?
Why? How could this be avoided?
Why not? What do you think is in place that stopped this happening?
5. Does Covid-19 appear to be surreal?
Why? What stops you feeling the threat?
Why not? What do you think is making you understand the reality?
6. Are people feeling alienated/isolated?
Other than self-isolation which in itself causes alienation what do you think causes this feeling?
Why not? What do you think is happening to help people feel more included?
7. Are you feeling guilty?
Why? What exactly is it that makes you feel like this?
Why not? What are you doing that helps you not feel guilty?
I started this blog by referencing four writers who’ve written about plagues.
8. Which of these resonates with you and the current Covid-19?
Why? What aspect makes sense?
Would you like to discuss any of this further? ELT Consultants have a discussion page on ELT Consultants Facebook at this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213786962716334
ELT Consultants regular Facebook Group is at this link: https://www.facebook.com/ELT-Consultants-237033193050401
References (in order of appearance)
Covid-19 deaths: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1087466/covid19-cases-recoveries-deaths-worldwide/
Water Aid: https://www.wateraid.org/facts-and-statistics?gclid=Cj0KCQjw7qn1BRDqARIsAKMbHDZskWhvwrNvg5zl0isbDc7KTFcOwauVB7oYhI0U37354lTUoNGqiFIaAllZEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
The Hands Up project: https://handsupproject.org/
Domestic violence: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/12/domestic-violence-surges-seven-hundred-per-cent-uk-coronavirus