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Special Feature - Perspective of a young volunteer: COVID19 – Are humans selfish or selfless?

About 10 weeks. Ten. That’s about 70 days. It has only taken this amount of time to reach where we are today. Only 10 weeks since we had our first case of Covid-19. But it feels like our lives have changed drastically since then, the new social order radically altered. Travelling, going for parties, watching a movie, family gatherings, eating out… well, you get the gist. What once was the normal has only become a far flung dream.

Covid-19 has become the new normal. People hiding behind 3-ply masks, standing 1 metre apart. Empty trains, empty roads, empty shopping malls. We are now in the midst of our “circuit breaker”, hoping that these empty sights can once be bustling again. As we advance together as one country in these unprecedented times, let’s not forget to take a step back and reflect on how we’ve been coping in the last 10 weeks.

People always say that humans are inherently selfish, but I’ve always chosen to look on the bright side and believe that mankind is good. Yet, throughout the course of this pandemic, my beliefs have been challenged and it appears that the former rings true — that maybe, in times of crisis, the worst in people are brought out.

It didn’t even need a DORSCON Orange to bring out the worst in humanity. The minute news of a new virus strain originating from Wuhan broke out, xenophobic sentiments arose. Wuhan was not only the epicentre of the virus, but the epicentre of racism. Then it spread to the whole of China. Chinese in Singapore were receiving hate and being shunned by locals. Any associations with their home country only incited fear and distrust.

When it became clear that the virus was not racist, healthcare workers on the frontline toiling and battling the virus were the next target, getting stares and rejections from taxi drivers and food sellers. When DORSCON was raised to orange, things took a turn for the worse. Throngs of Singaporeans swarmed supermarkets, clearing food items off the shelves. I’m sure you’ve seen that picture of a supermarket trolley loaded with instant noodles or packets of rice. This apocalypse-like behaviour is largely uncalled for, and shows how selfish humans can be in times of crisis, only fending for themselves. When masks and hand sanitizers were sold out, those fortunate enough to get a hand on them resold them at exorbitant, absolutely horrifying prices. It appears that we’ve forgotten what it means to live out the community spirit. We’ve forgotten that no man is an island. We’ve forgotten what it means to be Singaporean.

“If you’ve read till here, it may have hit you how ugly we have become. But maybe, there are two sides to a coin. Just maybe.”

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With every ugly action came about greater backlash and calls for improvements. The more open-minded and bigger-hearted ones took a leap of faith to call out the ones who’ve been selfish and rallied everyone else together.

First came the local corporates and businesses. Many chipped in to alleviate the situation for the most vulnerable of us. DBS Singapore supported AMKFSC’s initiative to deliver cookies to the healthcare frontline workers as encouragement and appreciation for their contributions, and also donated sanitisers to the community. That had sparked more community front efforts, where members of the public, like us, contributed our own. Seeing that others outside the localised community contributed to theirs, residents and shop owners alike, felt that they could do more for one another.

Local communities like those in Ang Mo Kio rallied together to fight the situation. Some were quick to promote the gift of sharing by placing hand sanitizers in lifts. A couple and their friends gave away free masks. Mothers made homemade hand sanitizers and distributed them out for free. Others helped to sterilise old bottles to be used in the making.

Not forgetting the most vulnerable group, corporates like Prudential Singapore, also came on board to provide care packs of personal care products and rations to the elderly. These came after the employees of the company that had regularly volunteered, realised that the seniors and elderly, especially the less privileged ones, had nowhere to go, unable to receive the usual engagement and worst still, were lacking in information.

Even healthcare workers started receiving the recognition they deserved. Eateries were dishing out special discounts for them. A hashtag #SGUnited had also been going around, applauding the work that they have been doing. For Malaysian workers that were stranded with nowhere to go, Singaporeans generously opened up their homes to offer temporary accommodation. Lately, free peer tutoring services have emerged for students who require academic help in this period of Home-based Learning. So maybe, it isn’t all that bad. Truly, it’s been really heartening to see how big-hearted Singaporeans can be. The community spirit is still alive in Singapore.

I didn’t bring all these up to debunk the ugly truths that arose. All these acts of kindness do not, make up for the past selfishness that has surfaced. These little actions may seem to minor to many, but it builds the awareness of situation and instil the spirit of giving in the employees of the businesses.

"They serve as testaments that we Singaporeans are still capable of living out the community spirit in us. They give us hope and encouragement in these trying times."

All it needs is a little spark, a shout out or just one person’s voice to call out to help others. It will inspire the rest to do so. As I hear more initiatives from these businesses in their contributions to the community, it makes you wonder what others could do, to alleviate and provide some form of support to one another. Afterall, being selfless or selfish, we are still one and together.

The road ahead is long and the fight is far from over. If we want it to end quickly, we need to stop being selfish. We need to remember that our actions will affect the people around us. The world is much bigger than ourselves but we all have it within us to make a positive impact and help one another in the small ways that we can. In times of crisis, it can bring out the worst but also the best in humanity. Let’s make the latter ring true instead.

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Tags: 2020

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