Interview with students volunteering during COVID-19


Communication studies student Ana Figueras and physiotherapy student Javier Álvarez are volunteering in the COVID-19 support programe at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital. They talk about how they are experiencing this health crisis in first person.


Ana Figueras: "We are all contributing with our grain of sand in an unselfish manner to help in such difficult times".

Javi Álvarez: "We help with the work of hospital attendants, since there are very few of them"

Ana Figueras:

 "We are all contributing with our grain of sand in an unselfish manner in these very difficult moments"

Ana Figueras is a third-year journalism student at the UAB. She is 20 years old and is volunteering in a new Covid-19 support programme at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital. She had been volunteering at another hospital before (Sant Joan de Déu) and when she heard of the solidarity programme organised by the UAB's Fundació Autònoma Solidària (FAS), she was determined to help out.

-Can you tell us what it's like to volunteer at the Vall d’Hebron in the communications department? 
We have a corporate e-mail address at the Vall d’Hebron where we receive emails, messages, photos of families whose members are admitted to hospital because of the coronavirus. When we receive this material, we put it all together, print it out, arrange it nicely and hand it over to the nurses. They are the ones who then give it to the patients. That way we can create a connection between family members who are outside and the patients here, since it is very difficult for them to communicate with one another. By creating this connections, patients realise that they are not alone.

-How much time do you dedicate to volunteering? 
We go by weeks and it depends on the amount of work we have. Last week I worked two days, for example. Four hours each day, but it also depends a lot on what day it is. This week we have Sant Jordi on 23 April, and we want to share all the anonymous letters we receive with all the patients who are suffering these days. There'll be more work than usual on that day.

-And how are you experiencing this volunteering job personally, you and others who are volunteering with you?

We believe we have to help as much as we can even if we are not doctors or members of the healthcare system. We are all contributing with our grain of sand in an unselfish manner in these very difficult moments. Things like handing out mail and helping patients to not feel alone is very important. It is a more humane aspect of the situation and as people, we appreciate this.

What was your first day like at the Vall d’Hebron in this situation?

It was quite chaotic, it is a shock to enter the hospital and see that it is being run as a field hospital. You cannot enter or touch certain places or things, you have almost no contact with people. Since this isn't normal, it shocks you a bit. The first “fun thing” they tried to do was offer videoconferences so that patients would be entertained with that. At the emergency unit all of the tables were set up to offer videoconferences, which was abig step forward.

There was talk about a lack of material at the hospitals. What was this like at the Vall d’Hebron?

Personally, I brought my mask from home, but they told me that if I hadn't brought my own mask, they would have given me one. They gave me a robe, which I was at home, but I can grab another one at the hospital... At least those of us working in more secondary sectors have access to all the necessary equipment, no one goes without.

Do you know the other volunteers? Have new people come in since the start of the COVID-19 crisis?

The members of the support team, which I form part of, we do not know each other at all. There are all types of people and the teams change frequently. We all go on different days, so we don't see each other much. We do talk through whatsapp, though (laughs).

How important do you consider this job volunteering?

“Losing” four hours a day is nothing if you can help someone. It is something we should think about not only now, but always. There are lots of hours in which we can help someone.

What do you think this coronavirus crisis will change?

It will help us all become a bit more supportive and helpful; before the crisis everyone just went about their business. Now we are more connected, anybody in the hospital will stop to help you if you need it. We have become better people. I hope we never lose this solidarity because it will all that is left of this crisis.

And what does this offer you academically?

In the academic field, I think it offers more to those studying medicine or nursing, but as a learning experience I have discovered what is truly valuable in life. What is most important is to be surrounded by those you love.

What do you think you will tell your grandchildren about this crisis?

First I will tell them that we all went a bit mad (laughs). I think it is a crisis that will leave its mark on the world, since it has attacked all of us, in many countries. I will tell them about how the process went from not believing in the danger of the virus, to treating it as a huge problem, and the extremely relevant role of doctors, who I hope will be given the recognition and value they deserve after this. I also hope this situation will make us learn to be more humane and change for the better.


Javi Álvarez: "We help with the work of hospital attendants, since there are very few of them"

Javi Álvarez lives in Barcelona and is 26 years old. He is in his fourth year of physiotherapy studies at the UAB and forms part of the FAS volunteering programme offering support to the Vall d'Hebron Hospital during the Covid-19 crisis.

-Given the current situation caused by Covid-19 and the social health programme organised by the FAS to give support to the Vall d'Hebron Hospital, what are your volunteering tasks?

What we do is try to take the weight off the hospital attendants and admistrative staff working at the pavilion that has been set up. Helping with their work, because there are very few of them. If we did not take over some of the tasks, then other healthcare workers would have to do them. It comes down to collaboration as a way of making the treatment of patients inside the pavilion more efficient. In this sense, our main tasks revolve around the management of materials. If someone needs material in the "dirty zone" (as they call areas contaminated with Covid) then we have a transition zone in which we place materials, food for the patients, we prepare the dining hall for the medical staff working at the pavilion.

-How many hours do you spend there? 

In general, all volunteers are here an average of two days per week. And we try to be spend the least amount of time possible, approximately two hours per day.

-Had you already volunteered with the Vall d'Hebron Hospital before? 

Yes, I began last year at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital as a volunteer of the FAS socio-health programme. And this year I became socio-health coordinator and since 2014 I have worked as a nursing assistant here. I have a very close relationship with the hospital.

What is the biggest change for you since the crisis?

The hospital was invaded from one day to another with many cases of Covid-19. Therefore, the main decision that was taken from the Vall d'Hebron was to forbid us volunteers from entering the hospital, until they looked at it from another perspective and said, "ok, you can collaborate with us" or "we need you and you can help like this". It was a way to prevent more contagions. I think it's correct, to stop a moment and say, "ok, you can work with us here" and do it safely. The great change within the Vall d'Hebron was when we went from going all around the hospital to there being a lot of restrictions.

Personally, how are you experiencing this volunteering job?

In general, it is a very positive experience, since we know the magnitude of what is happening, we know that many people are falling under this virus. So it's as if you are putting your grain of sand here. You know the country has stopped and that many people are self isolating at home with being able to leave, and you are lucky enough to be able to go to the hospital and help out with what is going on ther. I think that is the most positive part. In the end this is a personal experience, but it is also partly a professional experience, it forms part of your CV. You are lucky enough to be able to be bale to have collaborated with a hospital in these precise moments.

What was your first day like then?

The first day was quite shocking. We arrived at the pavilion and they showed us how everything had been organised. I must admit that Vall d'Hebron is very organised. Everything was under control and marked as "dirty" or "clean" zones. In addition, there are transition zones so that professionals can clean and throw away used material. This organisation is what won many volunteers over, since at first some were concerned about having relatives who formed part of the risk group, or they were afraid of getting infected themselves. But when we saw how it was all organised, we were sure that everything was safe.

Some say there is a shortage of materials. How is the situation in the Vall d'Hebron Hospital?

When we arrived everything was being well managed, We received all the necessary equipment and I would say the medical professionals did, too. We began volunteering on 1 April, so it was after the initial period filled with chaos.

Did you know each other before volunteering? Have new volunteers come in?

Only five of us knew each other, all the others are new. We are some 19 volunteers at the pavilion. There is only one in the morning, and then two in both the afternoon and evening shifts. A total of 5 different volunteers each day. The truth is that it's a bit difficult to organise ourselves, but I think we finally managed to and it is working out well.

What added value do you think you provide by volunteering?

I believe the added value can be seen by the appreciation of the healthcare staff. In the end, we are taking care of tasks they usually have to do. The resources are different in the pavilion. A person who is attending a patient has gone through a whole process of getting dressed to be in the "dirty" zone. Therefore, that person must remain inside for a longer amount of time in order to make the most out of their protective gear. Our work has been to prepare all the things they need so that they do not have the need to leave the "dirty" zone.

Do you think the crisis marks a before and after? How do you think the healthcare field, and the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in specific will change after the coronavirus crisis?

I think and hope that our professionals working in these hospitals will be valued far more. Although this is their job, they are also rinsking their lives. And I think we must learn to value the public health system that we have, as well as the luck of being able to react quickly and adapt so many other areas for patients, such as the field hospitals.

In the future, you will surely remember these weeks. What will you tell your grandchildren about this crisis?

I suppose I will tell them about landing into this unknown reality. For me it was a complete shock to see all of this, because you hear about what is happening, but it cannot be compared with seeing it in person. And this hit me hard, to see all the warnings and signs in red saying "Covid-19 Zone". I think suddenly we gave the situation the importance that it deserves.



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