Since its emergence, the novel coronavirus has become a massive challenge to the global health, causing millions of deaths, being the most disastrous non-traditional security threat to the entire world. With the national lockdown, the term ‘frontline workers’ arose to capture the vast number of individuals who reported to work notwithstanding the massive threats to their health and well-being.
On the Frontline is a project which is carried out in order to recognize and highlight the valuable service and effort that was provided by the front-line workers of Sri Lanka, during this pandemic catastrophe. Workers across a vast array of industries have found themselves essential parts of the machine that keeps the world in motion, required to do their jobs despite great risk. These people are the heroes our lives are dependent upon. This project is solely carried out to portray 20 inspiring stories of the frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“On the Frontline” project aimed to highlight the valuable service and effort provided by our front-line workers during this catastrophe. These hard-working heroes highlighted in these stories are keeping Sri Lankans, fed, providing them life-saving medical supplies, delivering groceries, picking up trash, caring for the vulnerable, and keeping us safe while they earn low wages and very few benefits. These are people our lives are dependent upon. This project has focused on the indiscernible contributions, struggles and sacrifices of frontline workers which is important to policymakers, employers, and every one of us to better protect, support, compensate, respect and show our undue appreciation to.
Methodology and Results
The 20 stories were divided into five batches and delivered within 7-10 days time span. The following are the frontline workers that were covered in this project:
Ghowzul Fareed Milkman
Commander RMG Rathnayake Navy
Ganeshan Jinesh Pharmacist
Vigneswaranathan Sarangan (Vicki) Youth Volunteer
Samantha and W.S. Amarawansha Sanitation Workers
Colonel P.P. Gunamuni Army
Fairoos Khan Fisherman
Eranda Pushpakumara Public Health Inspector (PHI)
Nadesan Maheshwari Waste collector
Deepthi Tharika Edirisinghe Medical Laboratory Technician
Dr Harsha Jayakody 1390 Coronavirus Hotline
Ajeerah Khaleeldeen Principal/Teacher
Dr Sathyani Wevita Clinical Researcher
Duminda Wanigasekara Counsellor in Addiction Recovery
Pastor Lakmal Wijeratne Pastor
Chaminda Janaka Cemetery Worker
Kumari Amarasena Registered Nurse
Veerachandran Kugathasan District Child Rights Promotion Officer (CRPO)
Dr Minoli Erandathie De Silva Emergency Doctor
Mangala Dissanayake Vegetable Vendor
The main challenge of this project was convincing people to partake in it. Most people were not willing to share their stories and had an inherent fear of losing their jobs if they say anything untoward. For this, the author had to speak to them, make them understand the project and its aims to get approval. Also, the story was first shared with the participants to garner consent, and when both parties were satisfied, the stories were published. Adhering to deadlines also proved to be difficult, as scheduled interviews were postponed due to the busy schedules of frontline workers.
Inspirational stories and personal accounts of frontline workers emerged from various countries, particularly from the west. However, a project of this scale was not conducted in Sri Lanka, where locals could feel and connect for the first-line responders keeping us safe. People could not acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of these workers as there was a need to disseminate information. Expressing voices from the locality has gathered momentum in social media platforms, as now people can relate to these inspirational characters originating from their own community.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global collective experience. Unlike natural disasters which wreak havoc in a community for a short period of time, the pandemic has affected personal and professional lives intimately in ways one could not imagine. Capturing these voices, moments, situations, experiences and emotions will show how the human race responded collectively to this global catastrophe and how to cope in an unprecedented crisis (e.g: stories of frontline doctors, nurses, teachers, public health inspectors, army, navy and innovators). It sheds light to the experiences of all people in different walks of life and how they navigated through these uncertain times and supported one another (stories from laboratory technician, rehabilitation worker to pharmacist). These stories most importantly are pivotal in altering societal and cultural norms related to certain professions (sanitation work, waste disposal, cemetery work).
It has created a platform to educate the public on the sacrifices made by individuals to keep us safe which reciprocated empathy and kindness whilst changing our perceptions towards certain types of work. The collection of personal experiences from diverse backgrounds, recording memories and creating expressive outlets makes this project authentic and inclusive. Additionally, it helps us to grow and improve in ways we never conceived and hopefully it will also serve as a reminder of the deep influence community has on the human race (e.g: stories of the youth volunteer, fisherman, vegetable vendor, pastors, milkman, social worker). The importance of documenting personal and collective experiences cannot be stressed enough. It is crucial which will later provide a different and personal side to research, scientific or others, that will be looked into after the Covid-19 era, and generations to come. It will help put into context similar events in the future, what worked and what didn’t, whilst helping to analyse the mistakes in order to make appropriate changes.
Sri Lanka has not defined its ‘essential workers’. As there were no specific definitions, the project was able to cover various professions which were on the frontline that proved to be thought-provoking. To ensure the country is better prepared for the next pandemic or catastrophe of this nature, the government needs to create a formal list of essential industries and frontline workforces. This will support policymakers to guarantee health and life insurance, guarantee sick leave, hazard pay and deliver protective equipment during a calamitous period, the need for which is highlighted in stories from the ‘waste collector, cemetery worker and sanitation worker’. These types of workers who were interviewed felt deprioritized, overlooked and even expendable. It is time that these workers are treated truly as ‘essential’, and it starts by recognising the value of their work which were highlighted in the project.
Analysis & Recommendations
Professions of various calibres have been covered in this project, albeit a few (e.g: repatriation flights, power plant workers, factory workers). The 20 stories give detailed coverage of the work that was conducted and inspirational content to why people stepped up. It shows us in great detail that when there is a catastrophe, there are many individuals who step for the task at hand, no matter the hardships, and that is what makes them inspiring and leaders to follow.
Social media has been a powerful outlet that was used to share these stories. Documentation over social media is both easy and complicated. It has helped reach many people by sharing across various media outlets. However, with all the images, videos and texts that are shared, it becomes overwhelming for viewers to try and document something specific. That is why it is important to document through another medium. There is a need for these stories to be documented into booklets to be spread across schools, colleges, libraries and other noteworthy places. This will also be an ideal way to share knowledge and preserve it for a longer period of time. Also, converting the stories into Braille for special needs kids will be a worthy task.