09 Mar Covid-19 : Transforming the Inside out
No schools, no colleges, no assignments, no projects, no outing, everything is blocked. Covid positive cases are increasing day by day enormously, everywhere, especially in red zones. Local authorities locked main roads, closed shops, and shopping malls. Even while maintaining social distance, wearing masks, and using sanitizers, there is some sort of fear, frustration, anxiety, and depression. Do we believe God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecc 3:11)? Life may be unpredictable and sometimes filled with painful separations, but we have to take to heart that everything takes place under God’s gaze. We can enjoy life and treasure the moments – the good and the bad – for our loving God is with us.
We can choose to follow God or the world in this pandemic situation. Where there is faith in God, there is no fear. Faith and fear never go together. Fear keeps us away from the presence of God. Courage will follow when faith takes the lead. Even when things seem confusing, God’s divine plans are unfolding for our good and for our God’s honor and glory. In His big picture, everything is in perfect alignment. His ways are beyond our limited ability. We should remember that the troubles all around us,that is, what we can see right now is temporary, but the joys which are stored in heaven, which we have not seen yet are permanent (2 Cor. 4:18). We all know that on 14 June 2020, the film star Mr. Susanth Singh Rajput, who studied at the Delhi Technological University, who also received his first nomination for the film fare award for best actor, for his titular role on the sports biopic of M.S. Dhoni (The Untold Story) died mysteriously.
NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences) stated that almost 19.73 crores people are facing psychological problems, out of whom 4.57 crores are due to depression and 4.49 crores are due to anxiety. Similarly, a survey by Axis Media International reveals that due to the recent pandemic or lockdown 50 percent of families lost their jobs. Can’t we react as children of God?
Security and significance are two essential elements of emotional health. If we feel we are safe from harm, rejection and loneliness, then we are blessed with those two essentials. Additionally, if we know that we are viewed with affection and appreciation by at least some of the people who matter to us, that gives us a sense of value. Consider what God’s word says in Romans 8 about our security and significance. “If God is for us, who can be against us” ? (v31) Later we are told that nothing can separate the believer “from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv35-39). These verses show how much God truly values us. No doubt, our greatest security is found in the love of the eternal God.
The Major Facts and Figures across the nations.
The COVID-19 crisis wiped out 6.7 percent of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020 – which is equivalent to 195 million full-time workers. Larger reductions are foreseen in the Arab States (8.1 per cent, equivalent to 5 million full-time workers), Europe (7.8 per cent, or 12 million full-time workers) and Asia-Pacific (7.2 per cent, 125 million full-time workers). These results surpassed the effects of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The sectors which are at high risk include – accommodation and food services, manufacturing, retail, business and administrative activities. The eventual increase in global unemployment during 2020 will affect future developments and policy measures. There is a high risk that the end-of-year figure will significantly be higher than the initial ILO projected, of 25 million. We must move fast, be decisive, and work together. The right and urgent measures could make the difference between survival and collapse.”
More than four out of five people (81 percent) in the global workforce of 3.3 billion are currently affected by full or partial workplace closures. Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies,” said ILO Director General Guy Ryder. According to a study, 1.25 billion workers are employed in the sectors identified as being at high risk of “drastic and devastating” increases in layoffs and reductions in wages and working hours. Many are in low-paid, low-skilled jobs, where a sudden loss of income is devastating. Regionally, the proportion of workers in these “at risk” sectors vary from 43 percent in the USA to 26 percent in Africa. The report cautions that some regions, particularly Africa, have higher levels of informality, which combined with a lack of social protection, high population density and weak capacity, pose severe health and economic challenges for governments. According to the study, large-scale, integrated, policy measures are needed, focusing on four pillars: Supporting enterprises, employment and incomes; stimulating the economy and jobs; protecting workers in the workplace; and, using social dialogue between government, workers and employers find solutions. “The choices we make today will directly affect the way this crisis unfolds and so the lives of billions of people,” he added. “With the right measures we can limit its impact and the scars it leaves. We must aim to build back better so that our new systems are safer, fairer and more sustainable than those that allowed this crisis to happen.”
When his wife was dying of cancer, a faithful husband could not understand why a loving God would let his wife suffer, even when she had served Him faithfully, as a bible teacher and mentor to many. “Why did you let this happen?”,he cried. Yet he continued to be faithful in his walk with God. He mentioned, “while I could not see God then, I recalled the times when God had helped and protected me.”There might be instances when we cannot feel God’s presence as His people, and we might wonder if God is with us in our troubles. That is when wemust depend on what we can see – of His works in our lives, in the past and at present. They are the visible reminder of an invisible God – a God who is always with us and will answer in His own time and way.
The Mindset and Motto of students
As COVID-19 cases were rising alarmingly, many countries across the world decided to make telecommuting mandatory. The working environment also had to abruptly change. People associate meaning to spaces. The lighting of a room, the layout of furniture, the type of furniture, and even the smell often sets our mood and triggers our “mode”. Some students also consider their homes as a non-learning environment.
Access to proper equipment, technology and other tools is a significant advantage when it comes to learning. Way before the COVID-19 pandemic, students who lack access to good internet and computers already lag academically. Internet and technical support, interest and initiation of the students, inputs insisted by the institutions, the creativity and content delivered by the faculty are some of the factors which enhance the effectiveness of online lectures.
Human beings are social creatures and we will always have this desire and need to belong. The remote working and isolation have already affected the productivity of the students. One student feels that physical interaction is necessary for learning. The lockdown has reduced crucial interactions with colleagues and teachers thus limiting any potential inputs in the research. The poor internet connection is affecting his thesis proposal writing. He finds it difficult to consult his adviser regularly. Others simply miss the University and their friends. As mobility is restricted, although not completely halted, the sudden empty streets and public transportation magnified feelings of exclusion in a student. They see crowded trains and streets to “de-isolate [themselves] from cultural barriers” making it seems that they belong to the society.
Although most of the student population receives scholarships, a handful students are dependent on part-time and even full-time jobs to help them with the daily expenses and “fill in gaps from [the] scholarships” as they live in most expensive cities. Few students save some savings and send back home to help their families. These sources are now practically non-existent and there is uncertainty on when such job options will resume. One student is worried that they might eventually burn through their savings.
Research shows that the COVID-19 lockdown had numerous impacts on the mental health, from feelings of loneliness, anxiety, negative emotional spirals, panic, and fear, to name a few. As the quarantine continues, the isolation intensifies feelings of loneliness, which is linked to 29-32 % increased chance of mortality. The moment they look at their social media feed, they are inundated by deaths, loss, and suffering. The lack of focus led one student to try medication, although they feel that it is ineffective. Students are also fearful for their own safety and for their family’s sustenance. A graduate mentioned his worry that his daughter is becoming impatient and aggressive due to the lockdown. These worries and concerns should never be dismissed as family stress has a negative impact on the academic performance of a student.
The Modes and Means to Overcome
In times of a crisis, positive emotions can induce novel and creative thoughts which will then lead to exploration and experimentation. Eventually, they develop effective coping strategies and increase their resilience against negative life experiences. To cope with the crisis and the emotional baggage, most of the students try to look at the bright side. Some students think the lack of commuting gives them “more time to explore writing a higher quality thesis”. They are looking at the isolation as an opportunity to read more and write the thesis.
Taking small steps, setting flexible goals, and a personal reward system can be helpful to students. Even the “first week of transition was the most difficult to design new routines and adapt to them quickly”. In fact, there is a need to re-orient them during isolation. Some students had to create a new schedule while setting daily or weekly targets. At first, it was difficult, as one found out that “sticking to a very rigid schedule brought more stress” especially when the targets are unmet. Thus, they decided to develop a more flexible scheme.
The students encounter work productivity issues since they associate their bedrooms with rest and relaxation. Since the layout and room design can affect the person’s mood, some students have resorted to re-orienting their small personal spaces. One student sets up a nook and designated it as his “specific workspace” while another arranged an area in their room so that it will “look more serious.” Arranging the room depending on use – that corner for relaxation and this one for working – is the strategy of another student.
The work-from-home lifestyle can eventually bring monotony for some students. A distraction or a break is beneficial as motivation suffers without it. One student complains that the monotony has already affected his writing. With a lot of time in their hands, some students have started finding new hobbies and developing new skills. One student started improving his cooking skills. Others started reading interesting literature, are watching documentaries and movies during breaks, or playing video games to relieve stress, and are even starting their own little urban garden. To help in easing their anxiety, a couple of students started meditating. Since isolation can lead to a very dormant lifestyle, one student makes sure he exercises regularly. A grocery trip turns into a relaxing walk in the park – of course with the face masks and social distancing.
Regular communication with advisers, colleagues, friends, and family has a positive impact on the academic performance of a student. The students agree. The family is seen as the best support and since video calls are more accessible nowadays, it has strengthened some bonds. In fact, one student wrote that the pandemic brought them closer to their family as they now set more time for video calls and online chat.
The pandemic has hindered various aspects in the life of a graduate student, but it has also opened new opportunities. A student believes it is a good time to reflect – “Where will I go? What should I do next? How can I be a positive influence in the future?” The limitations brought by the pandemic allowed one student “to step out of his comfort zone and try new things.” In fact, a couple of students have been scanning the internet and signing up for online courses to strengthen their academic skills. The online classes allowed one student to have more access to more institutions than ever before. Although the pandemic impacted a student’s thesis proposal, this pushed him to constantly consult his supervisor and craft strategies and method to conduct his field work. The pandemic can be used as an opportunity for learning and growth. The fire is rekindled in one student to finish the degree as it can be his gift to the family back home.
Even when things seem confusing, God’s divine plans are unfolding for our good and for God’s honor and glory. How Impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods? (Rom. 11:33) Sometimes some issues are not finalized, relationships are not restored, and marriages/jobs are not settled, dear ones are not survived, disturbances arise in regular workplace, compensations are reduced or denied, regular fellowship gatherings are not conducted. Remember, in His big picture everything is in perfect alignment. His ways are beyond our limited ability to understand and to trace.
There are two ways of life; a life spent pursuing riches versus a life grounded in loving God and giving generously. A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God shaped life is a flourishing tree. (Prov. 11: 28) What a picture of two ways of life, one flourishing and fruitful, one hollow and barren. The world may insist that material abundance equals good life. In contrast, God invites us to be rooted in Him, to experience His goodness and to flourish fruitfully. As we have shaped our relationship with Him, God reshapes our hearts and desires, transforming us from the inside out. May the Lord help us to trust him and transform us for His glory.
– Dr. Israel Raju Vuram, Guntur (Working as Professor of Mgt Studies, former Editor of AP Magazine, VidyardhiJwala, presently Literature Department Secretary, UESI-AP, Serving the lord with his wife Beulah and two children Hadassah and Enoch, and has been actively involving in students and church n ministry for the last three decades, residing in Guntur, AP)