2020 has definitely been a year we can never forget. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon challenges we had never prepared for, becoming a time for us to function with strength, unity and caution. For me, this has been a difficult yet incredible learning opportunity!
I graduated from my Bachelor of Science at the University of British Columbia in November 2019, and was excited to spend the next few months transitioning to optometry school. Little did I know, the world as we see it was about to change come March of this year. I had decided to take a trip to India this March, to visit family and reconnect with my cultural roots. My family and I left Vancouver, Canada just days before learning that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic. Just a week into our trip, what was supposed to be a relaxing time turned into a race to get early tickets back home before the Indian government enforced a complete nation-wide lockdown. We were one of the lucky ones to make it out the day before it started.
Arriving back in Vancouver after just 2 weeks, it seemed as though the world had completely changed. Streets were generally empty, household items were being sold out in all stores, and overall the world had become a fearful place. With the virus spreading and uncertainty for how schools, universities, and workplaces would function, many people around us including myself were starting to worry. Although I was not enrolled in any courses at that time, I began to wonder how long this pandemic would last, and what optometry school would look like for me. After some time, I started to notice some of the inspiring stories being shared in my community of people reaching out to those who were going through a tough time with the business closures and loss of jobs. People in my community, and in communities around the world were choosing to step up despite their own concerns and hardships. I realized that this pandemic would not be over until we tackle it by coming together and supporting one another. I decided to use this opportunity and organized a group of volunteers to start The Mask Project through my organization “Girls Empowered”, which I have been running for many years. We utilized our extra time indoors to make and donate cotton masks to women in need in shelters and resource centers around Vancouver. At a certain point during quarantine, I had felt as though I was serving no purpose, but channeling the time and resources I had to help others gave me a sense of strength.
Another observation I have made during this pandemic is that despite all the technology and resources we may have in today’s time, proper leadership and the ability to listen as a population at large is critical in circumstances such as this pandemic. I have witnessed the direct effects of excellent leadership from the top doctor of BC, which helped us control the pandemic much better than any other province in Canada. I have also witnessed the negative effects from a lack of effective leadership which has led to an explosive rise of cases in other parts of the world. What has been the most shocking of all for me is to see the lack of unity we as people have, even when it comes to taking care of our own health. I have seen protests for wearing masks, hate crimes against certain races, and the refusal to accept protocols and public health measures. At a time like this, I feel that we need to be vigilant listeners and abide by the recommendations of health experts who are looking out for our health. We need to show compassion and kindness to those around us so that we can fight this challenge together.
It is encouraging to see that despite some not cooperating, many choose to make the extra effort to social distance and protect one another. I am especially grateful to institutions such as Salus University, who are putting in so much effort to keep vital protocols in place so that we feel safe and stay healthy while adapting a hybrid model of study. As a new journey begins for my future classmates and I, I hope that we learn and grow as a strong, cohesive community to keep ourselves and those around us safe. I believe this pandemic has taught us the importance of listening, adapting and being patient while doing our part to keep our communities healthy.
- Jaskirat is an optometry student at Salus University