COVID-19 may have changed every aspect of life as we know it-but it is also restoring our collective faith in humanity as stories emerge of people quietly lending a helping hand in their communities.
Among them are many UBC students, faculty, alumni and staff.
In this series, called Making a Difference, we shine a spotlight on acts of kindness-both big and small-that UBC community members are carrying out to help others during this turbulent time.
Helping a family with childcare was a ‘no-brainer’
When the outbreak hit, Cayley Burton, a graduate student in early childhood education, had just submitted a research proposal for her master’s thesis. However, fieldwork was suddenly no longer an option with social distancing measures in place across the country.
With her graduate studies in limbo, Burton decided to take on more hours as a nanny for a local family whose mother works as a top medical microbiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
“Honestly, the childcare was a no-brainer-not just because my relationship with this family is special, but also because I know I’m helping and having an impact,” she says. “All of my efforts here are so that the parents for whom I work can rest assured their kids are getting the attention they need at a time when our regular routines are no longer possible.”
Burton is now with the children-Elina, 6, and Karina, 12-for 25 hours a week, helping the kids stay off their iPads while dad works from home and mom tries to help rein in the outbreak. With schools closed, Burton is also helping them with their homework and taking them on bike rides to ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D and fresh air, while also maintaining a safe distance from others.
“It is very humbling that I can be there for this family in this way during this crisis,” she adds. “The work I’m doing in the home helps the mom in doing the work she needs to do, making vitally important contributions towards Canada’s management of the virus.”
‘This is what we signed up for-being able to help our community’
When clinical rotations for medical students were suspended due to the outbreak, a group of UBC medical students quickly mobilized to do whatever they could to help.
Together, they launched the B.C. COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team, a student-driven volunteer initiative that serves to help health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak with daily tasks such as childcare, grocery shopping, and other errands as well as offering help for public health efforts such as responding to 8-1-1 calls and contact tracing.
Today, a month since they first launched, about 700 medical students have signed up as volunteers and they have received more than 200 requests for help from physicians across B.C. To minimize physical contact and ensure families and volunteers are kept safe, only one student is matched with each family.
Third-year medical student Vivian Tsang was in the middle of her rural family medicine rotation on Quadra Island when her clinical experience was put on hold. As a member of the team’s steering committee, she helps track health care provider requests and match them with available student volunteers.
“I am incredibly proud of our class and how many people have stepped up to help,” says Tsang. “This is what we signed up for-being able to help our community and step in during times of crisis and uncertainty and to use our skills in a positive way.”
Second-year medical student Sarah Fletcher is volunteering to help care for two young children whose parents both work in health care.
“Since we’re not trained enough currently to be able to offer medical support, we recognized that there were other things we could do to support the health care system as a whole and our future colleagues,” she says. “It would be very challenging for a lot of physicians to continue working without child care support.”
The team emphasized the initiative would not have been possible without the efforts of many, including support from faculty, and Doctors of BC and pro-bono lawyers who helped them develop a liability waiver.
They also collaborated with medical students across Canada and in the United States who wanted to launch similar volunteer initiatives, creating a “toolkit” that others could adopt for their own regions. Using this toolkit, dentistry, midwifery and nursing students at UBC have also since launched their own similar initiatives to help frontline workers.
‘It’s been very rewarding to support nurses working in hospitals’
With their clinical rotations also suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, nursing students from UBC, BCIT, Douglas College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University teamed up to support nurses with childcare and grocery shopping.
“Many nurses in Vancouver are working longer shifts and spending time away from their families to limit the spread of this virus,” says Jennifer Slater, a UBC nursing student and volunteer coordinator. “We wanted to do whatever we could to help alleviate any additional stress in their lives so they can focus on the work they are doing caring for our most sick and vulnerable community members.”
Volunteer Jessie Massong says helping a frontline nurse with caring for her daughter has been a heartwarming experience. She says the little girl told her she was her “favourite babysitter ever.” The little girl’s mom told her she is “forever grateful” to Massong for helping her family during this challenging time.
Nursing student Leanne Belcourt says she also appreciates the opportunity to volunteer.
“It’s been very rewarding to support nurses working in hospitals during this challenging time, since we’re not quite ready to hit the frontlines ourselves,” she says.