Each one of our lives has been locked down in some way. Millions of us are out of work or not going to work. Our children are not going to school. We are working from home, juggling conference calls with making lunch and dinner. We are digesting the news and sanitizing our groceries. We are calling friends and family, wanting to make sure everyone is okay.
The United States is on high alert, as we watch the number of infected people rise daily. When we see the numbers grow, we must take every measure possible to stay safe and keep others safe. This means staying at home, keeping a safe distance from family and friends, and frequently washing our hands.
Perhaps for the first time, we understand better how our actions impact the lives of others. The truth is, we have always been connected to one another. What each one of us does, every day, touches countless other people around us. What we do for work, how we spend our time and money, and how we treat the people and environment around us matters a whole lot.
Today, the world needs you more than ever. Your actions can save a life. You can slow down a global pandemic by limiting public exposure. But let’s not stop there. Being mindful of the needs around us means checking in on those who are vulnerable in our communities, including the elderly people who need help with their groceries, children who are out of school, and those who are sick with other conditions.
What you can do in the face of great need
How you help your neighbor can be an example to your entire neighborhood, encouraging others to be aware of those around them. Finding ways to live in solidarity with one another offers far more than material help, it offers people hope. Your small acts of kindness can make a big difference.
For example, when I was younger I served as a literacy volunteer in Maine, helping adults learn to read. Each night after school, I met with clients that needed help reading. That’s how I met Chuck, a construction worker who never finished high school. He had a new baby girl, and he wanted to read her bedtime stories. By working with Chuck, I learned how people navigate society without knowing how to read. Years later, this helped me understand why people evacuated after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans weren’t filling out claims for disaster assistance – many of them could not read. The work I did with Chuck enabled me to understand people’s needs on a larger scale.
Beyond the individual support we can provide to one another, each of us can be part of changing our community for the better. As you look around you, consider what bigger needs are going unmet. In order to address the problems where you live, consider volunteering on a neighborhood committee, helping a local nonprofit or running for office. Who would be better at finding solutions than the very people who see and understand the problems around them?
When powerful Derecho windstorms blew across northern Virginia in 2012, my suburban neighborhood in Alexandria was hit hard. Dozens of mature trees in our neighborhood cut out power lines for over a month. This also caused a break in cell phone connectivity, making it impossible for relatives to contact one another or for people with medical needs to call their doctor. I learned that we did not have a cell phone tower or fiber optic technology in our area. Working together with Verizon Wireless and community associations across the district, we got a plan approved by the zoning committee to upgrade the cell phone and power line technology for the whole region, placing smaller distributed antenna nodes on new telephone poles in 60 locations. This key upgrade in community infrastructure now helps people stay better connected. This measure of progress would not be possible without people recognizing the need and working together to solve the problem.
If we are to make the places where we live more sustainable for future generations, we have to care a lot more about how our actions impact the lives of others right now. We have to be willing to step up to leadership at every level – not just criticize the leaders who are in place.
The bigger picture
Through this crisis, we can be part of changing our nation for the better. We can be part of better preparing the country for future crises. Investing in disaster preparedness, improving supplies in our national stockpile, and strengthening public health systems at the community level are all important needs right now.
If you are a student in high school or college, you have a unique opportunity to choose your profession, maybe based on the needs you see now. You may choose to become a first responder by becoming a nurse, doctor or public health specialist. By studying public policy and government you can learn how to better administer public funds. If you are working toward a degree in business or accounting, think about our national budget and what resources are needed during a time of crisis.
To understand how our country can better navigate a crisis, we can learn from how the world around us is adapting to major disasters. From tsunamis in Southeast Asia to hurricanes in the Caribbean and earthquakes in Latin America; droughts in the Sahel and wildfires in Australia, there is no shortage of major disasters in the world today. This is the challenge of our lifetime, and we must rise to the occasion. The world needs us to be part of the response, to work toward solutions that will benefit humanity.
Beyond ourselves and our country
In conflict zones around the world, humanitarian workers and United Nations officials are working around the clock to mitigate the impact of violence on human life. Over 20 million refugees are waiting for wars to end so they can go home and return to normal life. Most of these refugees are from 5 countries; Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Myanmar and Afghanistan – countries that have been in conflict for many years.
Pope Francis and the Secretary General of the United Nations have called for a world-wide ceasefire to keep the world focused on fighting this virus. To date, 53 nations have signed a statement of support for this global cease-fire. It is time to end the unnecessary suffering of people trapped by armed conflict.
Your voice as an advocate can mean the difference between turning away from refugees and putting pressure on governments to help them return home. In my work, I have had the opportunity to help refugees from war-torn countries resettle and rebuild their lives in the United States. Now many refugees are stuck where they are with no way out. Yet humanitarian agencies are there on the frontline, ready to help. Refugees are particularly vulnerable because they live in crowded conditions where social distancing is impossible. The virus is resulting in renewed calls for universal health care for displaced people. In this time of unprecedented need, everyone should have access to care regardless of their nationality or immigration status.
Your tax dollars and personal financial support are critical to saving lives. The United States government is a generous donor to humanitarian crises all around the world, but we can’t take this support for granted. We have to tell our leaders to keep working on political solutions to these humanitarian crises.
How will you respond? It matters.
The coronavirus is a clarion call for people to care about one another, to recognize that suffering anywhere can impact us right here at home. It is a call to direct our energy and our efforts to help the world recover from the many crises afflicting it today.
The world needs you. It needs your time, your talent and your attention. Are you ready to answer the call? No matter where you are and what you do for work, this is an unprecedented time where each one of us is being called to action. You can do something to help those in need. You can save a life. Don’t wait to do what must be done. Start now.
Help your neighbor and volunteer in your community. Be willing to step up to leadership and offer solutions to the problems you see. The best gift you can give the world, is to give yourself. There is no one like you. Your unique skills, your creative thinking, and your resources are a vital lifeline to others. You are needed. When you respond, you will see just how much one person can do. Then together, we will build a stronger nation and a better world.