Tiando Damien (left) and his ‘Iron Man’ volunteer team give out supplies to international students in Wuhan, Hubei province, in February. LUO JINGANG/FOR CHINA DAILY
Tiando Damien named his team after the superhero Iron Man as a tribute to the character’s bravery and perseverance in fighting the evil.
But without a helmet or armor, Damien, a doctoral student from Benin in China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, and his 22 team members from 13 countries are devoted to fighting COVID-19 in the city by giving a helping hand to their fellow students.
These volunteers come from countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda and Yemen.
“No matter what continent we are from, our minds are linked like that of a family,” said Damien, 30.
Damien’s parents didn’t want him to study in China in the first place, as four of his elder brothers and sisters were married and they had hoped their youngest son can keep them company.
But Damien insisted, saying he likes Chinese films, kung fu and Jackie Chan’s sense of humor” and that he wanted to learn more about the culture.
He has now been in the country for eight years.
When the epidemic broke out in Wuhan in late January, Damien’s family called him several times a day. His mother even cried, pleading with him to fly back home.
“In the most difficult times, I also felt anxious and afraid,” he said. “But then I saw the many measures taken by the Chinese government to curb the contagion, which helped me grow faith to believe it is a responsible country and a safe country.”
Like the over 300 foreign students in the university, Damien chose to stay. But he wanted to do more, to participate and contribute.
The Iron Man team was separated into food supply, necessities supply and goods distribution groups.
Every day from February to May, the team would work from 9 am to 9 pm. They would send the canteen menus to WeChat groups and collect students' food orders as well as requests for necessities, and they would distribute goods to people in need.
To avoid face-to-face contact, they would knock on doors three times and leave.
“There were also problems,” Damien recalled. “For example, some classmates complained they didn't get a package on time. Such blame upset our group members because the service was free of charge.”
Damien said he would listen to everyone and provide explanations and comfort.
“I hope to help them to see problems from a positive angle.”
Maimuna Iddy Abdy, a 29-year-old from Tanzania who is also a member of Iron Man, said she immediately signed up to be a volunteer with a hope to “change the traumatized situation we all suddenly found ourselves in”.
“Despite being enthusiastic about being a part of it, there were a few challenges we had to overcome so as to provide good services, such as our cultural differences,” she said, adding she has been emotionally attached to Wuhan and considered it to be her second home because she has been there for six years.
Luo Jingang, a teacher at the International Education College of the university, said the college purchased about 12 metric tons of vegetables, rice and noodles to provide an adequate food supply for the international students.
Luo helped students add funds to their hot water and food cards by app or charging machines. He would show up if light bulbs were broken or someone ran out of money. And during the winter vacation, he even lived on the campus to make himself available for inquiries 24 hours a day.
“In the beginning, many students felt afraid. Some even refused to eat. So we talked to them very often to ease their anxiety,” Luo said, adding that many teachers besides him sacrificed their holiday.
Damien said teachers also helped move goods and contacted doctors if someone fell ill.
“We feel safe and secured,” he said. “For a country, protecting its own people is a necessity, but it (China) also treats foreigners the same way, which really moves me.”
None of the international students in the university has been infected by COVID-19.
There has been no reported local infection in Wuhan for over three months, and the university is waiting for students to return in September. Students are free to walk around but are not yet allowed to leave campus except for special occasions due to health concerns. Deliverymen also cannot enter the campus, so the volunteer team is still helping fetch packages for students.
“Wuhan is safer and there is less we can do,” Damien said with a smile. “China never disappoints me.”
(Source: China Daily http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202008/20/WS5f3dcd50a3108348172617c9.html)