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#CoronaHulp: ‘There's a broad desire to help one another'

Coronavirus is generating a great deal of uncertainty throughout the world. Fortunately, there are some bright spots, such as the residents of Italian cities who are in quarantine trying to keep everyone's spirits up with their clapping and singing. Closer to home, Leiden historian Suze Zijlstra took the initiative to set up the online solidarity campaign #CoronaHulp.

What made you think about starting this campaign?

‘A close friend of mine has cancer, so I offered to do shopping for him if he didn't want to leave the house. Then I thought that there are probably more people with the same problem, particularly if their family or friends live a long way away or become sick themselves. So I shared the idea on Twitter and asked for a good hashtag. Author Asha ten Broeke suggested #CoronaHulp and so the campaign was launched. It's for everyone who needs help or can offer help, whether that's physical or mental.’

What were the first reactions like? 

‘Very positive! A lot of people are offering their help and many people offering and needing help have already been put in touch with one another. It's particularly rewarding to see that outside Twitter, too, there are a lot of initiatives springing to life. I'm pleased that this is such a success, but, even without #CoronaHulp, there would have been some other initiative. There are so many people who want to help, but it's hard to know where to start. This broadly shared desire to help is the reason why it's catching on so well. Now there are different groups working on the next step: putting a structure in place to connect supply and demand. That will be important for the longer term, particularly to provide support in healthcare institutions.' 

What can people do to help one another at this difficult time?

‘Keep your distance physically, but still stay in close contact with one another. Give some extra thought to people who live alone. Delivery services are having difficultly coping with the extra demand at the moment, so let them look after the people who really can't leave the house. If you know people in the care sector, ask them whether you can help. And if you can manage it financially, you can also offer to help people who have lost their source of income, or are under threat of losing it. There are so many possible ways of helping. Be creative! And don't forget to ask for help yourself if you need it.' 

The advice is to keep contact with other people to the minimum. Isn't it dangerous to help my elderly neighbour? 

‘Yes, there are some dangers involved, but you can stay in touch by phone, and, if you do shopping for a neighbour, leave it at the front door, for example. Keep to the guidelines as strictly as you can. The Red Cross has put a brief set of  guidelines online for people who want to help the elderly or vulnerable. That way you can keep the risks to a minimum. Another tip is that it's a good idea to have some form of identification with you, so that the person you're offering to help knows who they are dealing with.' 

By no means everyone is on Twitter, and particularly not the elderly. What advice to you have for these people?

‘The Red Cross has just launched a telephone helpline. The volunteer platform NLvoorelkaar has already set up a special CoronaHelp page where people can offer and ask for help. And these are not the only initiatives. For people who want to offer their help, I would advise them to get in touch with the organisations I've mentioned, but also let people in your own neighbourhood know you're available to help. It's an awful situation that we're all in, but hopefully if we all show solidarity, it will bring a lot of people closer together. What I also hope is that, once this crisis has passed, it will have a lasting effect on how we relate to one another and care for the people around us.’

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