During a global pandemic, Switzerland's residents are finding innovative ways to support each other.
It started to catch my attention two weeks ago, when I drove hundreds of bottles of donated hand soap to refugees living in a Zurich camp. Though mothers at my kids' private, international school feared how the virus might affect their lives, they still raced to a store to buy products for refugees, met me in a rainy carpark, and shared soap with the less fortunate. Within two days of notifying my community of the need, I had a car overflowing with soap.
Since then, I've seen mothers offering to share food, board games, puzzles, tutors, and activity ideas during a lockdown. Others promote small businesses they're concerned about on chats and offer their time and resources to strangers on social media pages. This morning I asked my neighbor Noina, "Are you afraid?" as all sorts of people come to her restaurant at scheduled times, reach under her new plastic shield and pick up the Thai food she's hygienically prepared in her vacant kitchen. We stood far apart in our parking area as she explained to me that she loves her work, more than ever.
“People who serve the sick need someone to cook for them. They're stressed and tired. It makes me feel good to help." Noina, a Swiss Thai Buddhist, texts me, an American expat Christian, every morning – just to see how my family feels. She tells me she's praying for us.
It seems that countless people like Noina live in Switzerland, wanting to cope with the pandemic with kindness. In the past week I've read how Switzerland's people have taken to sharing services, masks and phone numbers; singing, playing instruments and clapping out balconies and windows; organizing social media channels; caring for the elderly and immune-compromised – all proving that though social distancing and hand washing are critical, acts of kindness build strength for surviving a global pandemic.
It's no surprise that research out of Oxford University supportsExternal link the phenomenon that acts of kindness directly impact human happiness and overall wellbeing. Another study, conducted by Harvard University, documented "The Mother Teresa EffectExternal link" whereby even the simple act of witnessing kind acts can strengthen the immune system.
These are just some of the countless acts of kindness that have brightened the landscape recently in Switzerland:
Social media has transformed into a force for good. Facebook groups and strings within established groups have been created, for most localities, to help others. Many are charted here.
Swiss techies have rapidly created websites to provide volunteer opportunities and assistance to those in need of help. For example, support.inzuri.chExternal link offers an entire section dedicated to helping with pets, shopping, sharing resources, mental health, kids’ health and giving assistance if the coronavirus is contracted. And, hilfe-jetzt.chExternal link (not yet available in English) was created to help people organize themselves into service groups and find help. The site includes a search engine for finding nearby resources and groups to join across Switzerland.
The Federal Office of Public Health in Switzerland has created a page with extensive informationExternal link on how to access all forms of assistance and answers to questions relating to the coronavirus.
Churches across Switzerland such as C3 ZurichExternal link and allsouls.chExternal link have created Livestream services, also called "social distance services" that include song, prayer, chats, and online sermons.
The hashtag #dieschweizsagtDANKEExternal link via Instagram and Twitter notes times when the public will clap from balconies and out windows for healthcare workers across Switzerland. In Geneva, people applaud from balconies every evening at 9pm, and a major national round of applause took place last week.
Other random acts of kindness reported throughout Switzerland include singing and playing live music from windows and balconies, offering to drive supplies from one city to the next, blood donations, free bouquets of flowers distributed from markets that are no longer to permitted to sell them, and checking on friends and neighbors via instant messaging.
Businesses are working to create products to help people cope. Many start-up companiesExternal link have created or adjusted products in response to the coronavirus with bracelets to track health changes, people-counting systems for supermarkets, flexible worker options, social distancing calculators and other innovations. Swiss watchmakers are dropping their work to make much-needed hospital ventilator parts. In Bern, a distiller of gin started making hand sanitizer.
If you or your business haven't yet found time to find ways to help others, consider joining the emerging "stay strong by acting kind" culture amid the coronavirus. It's growing in Switzerland, as fast as the wildflowers.
Do you have a service or act of kindness to note, in Switzerland or wherever you live? Let us know in the comments.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.
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