BREATH OF FRESH AIR: In Dhi Qar, young volunteers deliver oxygen to quarantined neighbours

Five young Iraqis are volunteering to deliver oxygen cylinders to local clinics and to Covid-19 patients quarantining at home.

By Alaa Koli

The young men look bored, as they wait outside the Covid-19 clinic in Dhi Qar. They are volunteers who are waiting for a batch of empty oxygen cylinders to be filled again so they can take them to another part of the province, where they will also remove any empty cylinders and return them here. The quarantine centre has around 600 oxygen cylinders and these need to be filled once, and sometimes even twice, a day. The volunteers take care of this and also bring cylinders to Iraqi locals quarantined in their homes.

“I’ve been doing this for more than one hundred days,” says Abbas Abu Dara, 20, one of the volunteers. “Ever since this quarantine centre opened in Al Shatrah in June. It’s been tough sometimes, waiting for the oxygen cylinders to be filled and then continuously travelling. But as a team, we’ve been able to move between the different parts of the province on a daily basis and we’ve been doing that for the last three months,” he explains.

If there was a spike in the number of cases, it might even mean making a long journey to transport oxygen twice a day, he added.

Although the volunteers admit that sometimes they don’t follow sterilization rules to the letter, none of them has yet come down with the Covid-19 virus. The worst that has happened is when one of them has fallen carrying the heavy cylinders.

Another of the volunteers, Sajid Adil, believes the team has saved dozens of lives. “It is tough taking the oxygen from private or public labs to the quarantine centre every day but we want to do it, no matter how far we have to travel,” he says.

The oxygen comes free from government laboratories but the cylinders are purchased with donations from private citizens. Sometimes the volunteers find themselves paying for aspects of their job.

The youngest among the volunteers is Sajad Mohammed, aged 17. But he’s also one of the busiest. He keeps challenging his companions to carry more cylinders to the vehicles.

Mohammed left his job working at a market stall to do this. “I never finished school,” he explains, “because I had to go to work and help support my family. But recently I was taking part in street protests [against political corruption] and I met these guys. I feel that this experience has really given me a lot of awareness of the preciousness of human life.”

The young men have grown accustomed to seeing grieving relatives keening over the death of a loved one from the virus. “We usually just watch silently,” Dara recounts. “But when we see somebody recovered and leaving quarantine, we feel so happy. We feel that we have contributed in some small way to them getting better.”

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