COVID-19 started with a bang for me and high stakes drama that led me across 3 continents in 2 days. I started with a large group of colleagues stuck in a hotel in Tunisia trying to get the last flights out before borders closed. It soon became a competition of who could stay on a flight the longest without it being cancelled. I couldn’t have asked for better friends who took this stressful unimaginable situation as a ‘what can you do?’ challenge and we all celebrated whenever one of us made it out of the hotel to the airport even if it was at midnight. Being deported from my second country due to border rules made whilst I was up in the air, I was lucky enough to get back home to a very quiet empty Heathrow airport whilst hearing all about the crazy stories of others in similar situations from the air stewards.
I took the time during the first days of COVID-19 like others, cleaning my house like Snow White in a Disney movie. I was super proud of my cooking skills which I have discovered probably too late. I then came upon a volunteer group that was starting on Facebook for my area in South West London. I volunteered to work as one of a core group of coordinators responsible for verifying volunteers through security checks and matching them up with requests from the community. This was a project that was eventually supported by Greenwich Council and we dealt with at risk people e.g. the elderly, single parents, disabled who were self-isolating and could not get supplies or were in need of support. At the start of the outbreak there were a lot of members of the public who had no support or were scared and equally a number of people who just wanted to help. We mainly went shopping for people who could not leave their homes and tried to match up people with greater needs such as housing or lack of food with various council authorities.
I used an excellent system that had been set up on Trello to record what help was offered or any communication made in order to make every action transparent. We used Slack to keep up to date with Council information e.g. foodbank contacts, Council aid contacts to use when referring people who needed further support. I had never used either before so this was a huge learning curve for me but the pretty colours helped!
As the situation changed with lockdown restrictions loosening, the requests started decreasing and I began searching for a teaching job online as all my future training had been cancelled. Unfortunately, due to the sudden loss of jobs all over the world, online teaching was inundated with teachers and the pay offered had decreased to well below the minimum wage. Being faced with no potential employment, a friend and I offered to do volunteer online teaching. We joined an organisation where we tutor a Syrian refugee who is hoping to start a new life in a developed country. It is a one-to-one tutoring programme tailor-made to that particular learner’s needs and involves more than just teaching English. It is exciting because we hope to prepare them for the world of work in a completely new country with new opportunities. However, we are also learning to be very sensitive to the situation they are trying to leave behind and the traumas they have been through. I feel lucky to have internet at this time to be able to do more than clean!
I think with the unexpected turn of events, we as freelance teachers have been the ones who have probably been able to cope the best. We are always planning for no plan to go according to plan. We are used to last minute job cancellations, getting a flight ticket a day before you fly, suddenly having to leave a training and a city due to political changes in a developing country. I have even made the difficult decision to drive through fire after work during a civil war. But I have several friends who have lost jobs or are having difficult times with their business which makes these scary times in a different way. With the devastation of COVID for families, I am hoping that we can not only recover, but also emerge from 2020 as changed for the better.