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Cordaid NL

Blog: Suddenly we are all fragile

A virus x-rays our society and lays bare the essentials. We, the super tech generation, learn the science of soap.

We brace ourselves for something we can’t see. Something we didn’t see coming even when the bells were going off big time.  And now the coronavirus teaches us what we covet most: toilet paper, pain killers, pasta. Hoarding is as contagious as the disease we’re afraid of.

The virus crowns and exhausts our most valued professions: nurses, care workers, teachers, garbage men, truck drivers, grocers. The ones who make things, who grow food. Those who are underpaid and paid the price of the austerity that was needed to heal the sick system of predator capitalism. The vital ones.

We, who rank high on the human development index

We’re fragile. We, westerners who had no war on our soil for two generations. Who went to faraway places to either take something (colonialism), have something made and take it anyway (globalisation), to bomb enemies who never set foot on our soil or to soothe suffering with aid (foreign policy). We, who rank dazzlingly high on the human development index, are fragile.

We sit, watch and consent in fear, as our solid democracies are turned into health dictatorships and hard-won freedoms evaporate overnight. All free citizens are fragile.

We seek protection in the confinement of home and we are lost. We have lost the art of reading a book or sitting still, of being alone, of silence, of being bored. The idea of sitting inside for three weeks with kids drives us nuts. We are entertainment addicts, who have forgotten how to look into the eyes of ourselves and embrace finity and the beauty of everyday things. We have a chance now. To look in the mirror. To see the essentials and find our way home.

Our mind’s map

Let’s be honest. When we said ‘health care for all’ we mostly meant ‘specially for poor countries’. For ‘conflict-affected countries’. For ‘fragile countries’. Because we had the best healthcare systems in the world, right? And it’s true. But it appears that these health systems only have that many IC beds. It appears that if we don’t ‘flatten the curve’ of contagion, the best care systems in the world collapse. We’re fragile.

Sure, Sustainable Development Goals are global goals. But somehow, when we say ‘no poverty’, ‘zero hunger’, ‘health for all’, ‘decent work’, ‘reducing inequality’, European countries do not light up on our mind’s map. Now, look at us. Hoarding food, staring at empty supermarket shelves, driving freelancers and entrepreneurs into bankruptcy, closing borders, imposing curfews.

Corona teaches us that we’re fragile. That we can learn from countries like Rwanda (public handwashing facilities on every street corner). From South Koreans, who are recovering thanks to their strong sense of community and solidarity. They even offer free COVID-19 treatment to undocumented migrants. Now that e are in lockdown ourselves, we can learn from refugees and from the confinement we inflict upon them in camps and closed migrant centres. It teaches us that we can learn from kids in South Sudan who wash their hands better than we have ever done. If they have soap and water.

The coronavirus teaches us that SDGs are what we knew they were but never really admitted: global goals.

By all means, world

Working in and on fragility. That’s what Cordaid does. At headquarters and in our country offices, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Sierra Leone to Eastern DRC, we’re dealing with the corona crisis. We are sorting the vital, life-saving activities from the rest. We organize ourselves to still get things done.

There’s one big advantage of working with Afghan, Iraqi, Sierra Leonese, Congolese and many other health and humanitarian experts and civil society professionals in ‘faraway’ places: they survived and lived through many crises. They keep their heads cool. Dealing with paucity and imminent danger has sharpened their inventiveness and stamina. Having them as colleagues and partners, somehow, feels safe. By all means, world, give them the means, the freedom and the equality they are entitled to. They make us less fragile. They make the world less fragile.

Let’s sing

And now, let’s stand on our balcony or in our garden or behind the window, and sing. Sing as Italians sing. Or sing like the Palestinian boy I once met who had spent months in jail. He silently sang the songs he had sung with his mom and dad, to keep himself from peeing in his pants when the interrogators came. To feel home. To feel safe.


This blog is written by Cordaid corporate journalist Frank van Lierde. Photo: © Frank van Lierde

Read more about the impact of the coronavirus on Cordaid and on how we respond. Or go to our health page.