Small Kindness, Great Love Chinese Students in Battle Against COVID-19 in UK

Writer: Sharon Karen; Editor: Ashley JianSRP International

Part 1 – We Need to Do Something

“Since 10 o’clock, January 23, the city’s public transportation and highways have been temporarily closed!”

Katharine had just arrived home. Just as usual, she put down the key, before turning the light, swiped her phone to check the domestic news, only to hear the anchor’s voice in quite a heavy tone…

Wuhan was on lockdown.

In Scotland, it was 6 o’clock in the evening. Orange street lights were sneaking through the windows into her house. It was such a warm and quiet night. Leaning on the door, Katharine stared at the window, with her cellphone held tight in hand and her face going pale.

“585 cases have been diagnosed in China,” she murmured with a sigh,”The number will surely grow over time, I wonder how people there are holding up…” She frowned, locked the screen as she sank into the sofa.

Katharine, whose Chinese name is Wang Fangxue, is an MBA graduate from the Edinburgh Napier University. She is now the co-founder of Rocket Global Marketing Ltd, a company facilitating sino-foreign cooperation and exchanges. Meanwhile she has another identity-a former pediatrician nurse at Peking Union Medical College Hospital and West China Second University Hospital. Having received systematic training in foreign context, she was more sensitive to the development of the epidemic than ordinary people. Seeing the soaring number of newly diagnosed and suspected cases and hearing the tragedies of suffered families, she was heartbroken from the other side of the globe.

A picture of Wang Fangxue at work

At midnight, thick clouds loomed over the sky under which cold rain pattered. “There are imported cases being treated in Peking Union Medical College Hospital, I hope my former colleagues are all right. Will the staff in West China Second University Hospital be drafted to Wuhan?” Katharine lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to the sound of heavy rain hitting the window, she never felt the noise so loud. “The virus is spreading too fast. How long will it take to find pathogens and remedy? Will there be enough medical supplies in Wuhan?” She tossed and turned all night.

The next day, she got up early, went to her office and called Chen Jinhan, her co-partner. He sounded weary.

“Didn’t sleep well?” asked Katharine, making herself a cup of coffee.

“I couldn’t, not after watching the news of the epidemic,” Chen Jinhan was also concerned about the situation in China. Posts from medical staff on social media about medical supplies shortage and callings for donations had attracted his attention,”the situation was certainly not assuring.” Indeed, as a former medical staff, how could she not be concerned in the face of the epidemic? “It is spreading faster than I thought…” sighed she, “We cannot stand idle at this time ,” As a person caring for public good, Katharine also does volunteering work in Scotland, “We need to do something.”

A brief silence struck in as they brought up the same idea.

“But we cannot do it only by ourselves. Our country is going through a difficult time now, those overseas students will be willing to help out.” said Jinhan, whose spirit lifted a bit.

“Exactly, we can call for oversea Chinese students, and I know someone else who can help.”

Part 2 – Overseas Chinese Students Are In Action

Wendy Wu, the manager of the University’s incubation program, is a friend as well as a mentor to Katharine and Jihan. Before Katharine came to her, she just saw a post from a relative who works in a hospital in Chibi, Hubei asking for help with medical supplies. She felt the need to the resolve this pressing issue. 

Three knocks pulled Wendy back from her own thoughts, “Come in.”

“Wendy Wu, Jinhan and I have a plan!” Katharine exclaimed while hurrying in.

Through a 30-minute online conference call, the three hit it off. They decided to form an emergency support action team to raise funds and organize volunteers to find and purchase medical supplies.

“Protective gears used in fighting against the epidemic are different from those of general medical protection,”introduced Katharine,”we better learn the requirements before recruiting volunteers.” Wendy Wu then recommended her an alliance formed by Chinese student unions in European universities, “They have contacted with some hospitals in China and have professional training in this field.”

After joining the alliance, Katharine gathered requirements on masks, protective suits, goggles etc. At the same time, she helped them to find medical suppliers while having Jinhan made full preparations for fund-raising activities. As for Wendy Wu, she was trying tried to contact social organizations and hospitals in China.,

On January 28 local time, a piece of message saying “10,000 pounds of emergency donations for warriors in white fighting new coronavirus” was released on the JustGiving platform,on which day donations from seven caring people were received.The next day saw a 12-member team in Britain for supplies collection quickly formed through social media. Volunteers were international students from eight British universities, including the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, Glasgow University and University of Western Scotland. Because the initiatives are entrepreneurs, they name their volunteer team as a “Scottish Love & Entrepreneurship Volunteer Group(苏格兰大爱创业志愿团)”.

The support allows of no delay. Katharine first grouped volunteers by type of supplies and asked them to search for manufacturers by keywords on Google or other search engine. At this time, the vexed problem came. Although the volunteers have already learned about the standard for medical supplies at the early stage, they are not professionals after all. They also need to determine whether the supplies from other European manufacturers meet the standard with the help of translation. The information gathered by the group members was quite scattered and complicated. So Katharine had to go to a professional medical worker for help on a second checking.

Nevertheless, information collection for them appeared insignificant when compared with the following challenge.

“Hello, do you have FFP3 facial masks?”

“……”

From “three certificates”, to the situation of inventory, and to the delivery time, they exerted all their strength to ask the manufacturer for supply by sending countless phone call and email one by one.Even if they finally got a manufacturer, the answer they received was “no inventory!”After countless rejections —

“Jinhan!!We get it!!”Katharine made contact with a manufacturer of medical protective suits in Germany.

“Merci,Merci beaucoup……(Thank you, thank you very much),”Chen Jinhan putting down her phone, standing on her feet while screaming “here comes another manufacturer from France!”

But soon they discovered that the protective suits outside the UK could only be bought by local organizations.However,since they have knew the source of supply, they can provide relevant information to their friends in Germany or France for help. And the volunteer group finally reached the medical supply in UK. Although only goggles were found, they could at least get a sigh of relief. With the goggles in hand, Katharine contacted Edinburgh 51Parcel and STO Express, who were able to deliver supplies free of charge to the hard-hit areas.Through friends in China, she got in touch with Dr. Chen in the radiology department of Wuhan Union Hospital, who could help with the donation documents.

Overcoming the time difference, the team was busy with contacting all relevant parties, operating the donation website, sorting out the customs clearance documents and arranging the logistics……It could be done in the office, but undeniably it’s such an excruciating work. The thick aroma of coffee can’t covering the smell of ink of the documents; a pile of warm paper being folded was weighed down by the new document;the printer was humming, while waiting for a few seconds of printing–may be the most comforting moment to rest.In the meantime, the volunteers were still on the go, seeking for organizations and manufacturers for the next batch of supplies, and continues to listen to “Sorry…is out of stock.” But there wasn’t even a word of complaint.

first batch of supplies

It only took 3 weeks from the establishment of the volunteer group to the handover of the first batch of supplies to logistics.290 goggles were donated to the Union Hospital affiliated to Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and 70 goggles were donated to the People’s Hospital of Tianquan county in Ya ‘An, Sichuan province. Strictly following the laws and regulations, openness and transparency had been seen for the whole donation procedure.

Part 3 – The Battle Goes on

“We also got confirmed patients here, whereas it is impossible for the county hospital to set up isolation wards, not to mention the protective equipment for isolation…..” The former colleague said in WeChat, with his tone being anxious and hopeless. “I keep a close watch the medical supplies, don’t worry!” Katharine didn’t want to put pressure on the frontline, but she knew it was getting harder and harder to find supplies. The volunteers had no idea of expecting another obstacle ahead of them. JustGiving continued to raise money, but the total amount it received was dwindling. After all, it was aimed at tackling issues happening in China.

“The donors are all our own people. Ten thousand pounds is not an easy goal.”

Katharine said so as she looked at the donating information. As of 23 February 2020, a total of £3,431.01 had been raised through a JustGiving fund raising campaign on WeChat.”The first batch of supplies has already cost us about two and a half thousand pounds, and we can’t afford the second batch even if there is a supply.”Jinhan said, depressingly. Meanwhile, as the confirmed cases in the UK increased rapidly, not only did the medical supplies in Britain shrink a lot, but the second batch of goggles found after a series of twists and turns, couldn’t be bought due to logistic problems.

Without any fund, no stock, no logistics, but determination was still there! What they could do was to encourage more people to join them. At that time, the amount of overseas-students volunteers has reached 58 from 12. They then started to gather ideas for a encouraging video, since it not only cheers up those medical people, but also gains more popularity for the team, therefore raises the donation.

fundraising picture

Just before the press time, they were told that all lines were restarted into use and logistics were also back to normal. This of course serves as a refreshing news for the whole team! And we have just got the news that, a friend of Professor Wu has just donated an ambulance to People’s hospital of Chibi and it was just the type of car needed!

“Small Kindness, Great Love” is the headline of the introduction of the voluntary group. Katharine, Frank, Wendy Wu and other volunteers, they are just a small part among hundred of thousands of those overseas students and immigrants, who have been busy collecting medical supplies for the medical groups in China. But they know, deep down, that in face of the disaster of the motherland, Chinese youth should never stand back.

In fact, none of them stood back.

Just follow your heart and make a difference.

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