Expats in Shanghai are helping in their communities and on campuses amid the COVID-19 lockdown through various voluntary services, experiencing joy and togetherness in the process.
“Small things that make you happy these days … a little bit of human contact, a little bit of fresh air and feeling productive,” Raquel Sanchez Montes, a Spanish national living in Changning District, wrote in her WeChat Moments recently after finishing her first volunteer experience in her locked-down compound.
As a trend forecaster, fashion consultant, stylist and collector of sunglasses, Montes has been living in China for more than six years and moved to Shanghai last November.
She explained that it was her first lockdown experience as she was back in Spain during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“It’s OK because my apartment is not very small. I can walk from one room to another,” she said about the lockdown in Shanghai since late March.
“There are some days that I feel like I want to go out, but I think I’m just being patient. I’m totally connected all the time with people. I have so many friends from Spain, from around the world, and they are calling me all the time. And I’m working at home. So it’s OK for me.”
Montes said she spent hours talking on phone with her family and friends every day.
She has also been keeping positive and happy. She does pilates or dance every day, and now serves her neighbors as a volunteer.
It’s her Chinese neighbor Melinda who invited her to do voluntary work in the community.
Melinda established contact with Montes on WeChat on the first day of the lockdown to keep her updated on happenings in the community and offer a hand when she needed something.
They soon became friends and then one day, Melinda told Montes that she was going down to help deliver food in the compound and asked whether she would like to join her. “Sure!” Montes said.
“So I went down,” the Spaniard said. “I’m happy to help because the security guys are bringing packages to us all the time and they must be exhausted. I also want to feel that I’m doing something for others.”
Montes and three other volunteers delivered bakery products to their neighbors in the 24-floor building, with three or four boxes for each floor. They put the boxes in front of the door, knocked and left.
“It was quite fun,” she recalled. “When I went home that day, I felt much much better because I did something and I got some fresh air. It was a good feeling. I told Melinda, if they need me, I can go every day and help out.”
Through voluntary work and community WeChat groups, Montes has come to know more Chinese and foreigners in her compound, including another Spaniard.
“I think we are all becoming friends now,” she noted. “It’s good because my community is really nice. Everyone is helping each other and sharing food, sharing everything. I’m happy.”
Montes, who lives alone, revealed that basic food supplies are ensured in her community as the local government gives residents food several times.
But she had been yearning for diet coke. Then, one day a Peruvian friend was able to get out of her compound when the lockdown there was lifted and became a precautionary zone. She found some Pepsi zero-sugar coke and brought it to Montes’ neighborhood.
Montes also celebrated a very special birthday on April 11 — under lockdown.
“For me, my birthday is a big day and I always celebrate it like a party,” she stated. “I wasn’t expecting much this year. I wasn’t expecting flowers or any feast. But it was so much fun and it was good because I got surprises.”
A friend who lives in the same building but was locked down in her office managed to get flowers for her.
“At this time, when it is difficult to get anything, she got me flowers. I was so happy,” Montes gushed.
“I also had many phone calls from my friends around the world. Nowadays, instead of calling you, people generally send messages. But this time because I was in lockdown, everyone was calling me to wish me happy birthday. It was cool.”
Before midnight that day, Melinda knocked on her door and asked her to check the chair outside. Surprisingly, she saw a small cake and candles prepared by neighbors.
“That was really amazing,” she said. “I had everything. I had a cake, I had candles, I had flowers. It was great. I was so happy.”
At Fudan University, about 30 international students have been volunteering to serve fellow students since campuses were put under closed-loop management on March 13. At the beginning, students were asked to stay inside their dormitory to prevent virus transmission.
Since the pandemic outbreak in early 2020, most international students of Fudan have been stuck in their home countries, taking courses online. Now there are about 300 students living on Fudan campuses.
The volunteers, in red vests with “Fudan University International Student Volunteer Service Team” printed on the back, do a lot of work daily, ranging from distributing meals and daily supplies to disinfecting the stairs and corridors, and coordinating nuclear acid testing.
Koei Enomoto, a Japanese undergraduate student from the Department of Environment Science and Engineering, served as a volunteer on campus back in early 2020 when the university was put under closed-loop management for the first time.
“I’m always ready to help others,” Enomoto asserted.
The majority of residents in his building are girls. When they told him they were almost out of drinking water and needed seven bottles of 5-gallon water, he helped with the purchase and delivered the water by himself to their doorsteps.
Tikumporn Taprick, a Thai undergraduate student from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, is also a timely helper.
“Sometimes I’m in the middle of an online class. Then I will record the class and ask the lecturer or my classmates later about the part I don’t get. It really makes me a happier person when I help others,” he said.
Molua Njumbe Smith Ikome, a Cameroonian PhD student from the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, has been helping maintain order during on-site nuclear acid testing in the north residential quarters of the university’s Handan Campus.
He spoke highly of the collaboration between Chinese and international student volunteers.
“Just seeing the level of commitment and hard work of my peers makes me proud to be a Fudan volunteer,” he remarked. “I’d like to applaud all relevant departments for their unwavering expertise and dedication toward combating the virus.”
Among international students living off-campus, Nikita Shilov, a Russian PhD student from the School of Economics, is now helping in his residential community as a volunteer.
A few weeks ago, he contacted his community leader to ask what he could do to help. Since then, he has been knocking on the doors of his neighbors, delivering antigen testing kits and essential supplies.
“At first, people were quite surprised to hear my accent as I was fully covered in a protective suit and they couldn’t tell I was a foreigner. But now, everyone in the community knows me,” he said in a happy and proud tone.