The third wave of Covid brought a shaking up in the community in the capital of North Macedonia. There was a layer of fear and heaviness over the northside inner city as Macedonia emerged as the 4th highest nation for Covid mortality in the world. One of our own staff saw 15 deaths in her own wider family network. For these, there was little or no chance for a public funeral due to the risk of infection. It was as if these lost lives (and others in the community) just disappeared. You just didn´t see them anymore. Covid also exacerbated existing poverty and unemployment in the community, and to wreak further devastation businesses closed. Many couples separated under the stress and suicides took place. The situation became a question of existence for many in the local neighborhoods. What made a difference during this time was not the therapy we offered, but the women just having the opportunity to talk – the chance to be noticed and seen.
Thankfully and remarkably, through all of this, the virus did not touch any of our project participants. Nonetheless, Hope & Health was not able to stay open without interruption. At certain points, all training and therapy centers were obliged to close, and this called for innovation on the part of our staff, to find a different way to serve.
The infrastructure in North Macedonia was not robust enough to deal with the needs of the city in crisis. Patients found themselves in crowded corridors in the hospitals, with doctors and nurse doing their best. Many in the public were avoiding the hospitals for fear of contagion. Hospital resources were stretched beyond limits in the battle against Covid-19 with a lot of frustration, exhaustion and stress amongst medical staff.
One way our Operation Mercy team made a difference was by coming alongside the medical vaccination personnel in practical ways, i.e., with care packages, massage, and words of encouragement. They went out to visit and support medical staff at vaccination centers in the city, including one at the main indoor sports stadium. Our team listened and asked how the staff were doing, while handing out care packages. Some of the stressed staff had tears in their eyes and wanted to make selfies. Who else was asking them how they were coping and caring for them?
Our coordinator was not expecting the vaccination staff to be touched as much as they were.
“I will never forget that day,” recalls our physiotherapist, “Walking into the central vaccination point and seeing the response of the medical personnel, vaccination staff and even the food vendors...”