Grace Moucharafieh is a second-year BA International Relations student. She is passionate about history, global affairs, human rights and world politics. Her multinational background and experiences with NGOs give her an acute outlook on global and current events. She is passionate about theatre, rugby and cooking.
All the volunteers at the Newtown mass Vaccination Centre in Wales agree that the personal benefits of volunteering far outweigh their positive impact on the community. The signing away of your free time to direct cars in a car park, or tell people to follow the dots on the floor gives something important back to those who sign up for it; their sanity. As a volunteer at a mass Vaccination Centre, you interact with people all day and see first hand the resilience and positivity of our population. This applies especially to the vaccine recipiants in the over 90s age categories, who when asked whether they would prefer a parking spot nearer the door exclaim “no!” as they would much rather step out with a walker or wheelchair and have a few extra minutes in the fresh air.
At the Newtown mass Vaccination Centre volunteers give out sanitiser, direct people through the centre, wipe down surfaces and meet every patient with a warm smile and welcoming words. In truth, these tasks may seem mundane, but their collective impact is bigger than these tasks alone. The national vaccination effort is an incredible machine where all the tiny cogs come together to form something almost magical through interactions that make your heart swell.
People are guided by marshalls through the system to ensure that no one takes a wrong turn and to reduce stress or embarrassment due to feeling a bit lost. Lockdown in the UK has not been easy on anyone, and people miss social interaction, conversation, and simply being in the same space as others. Volunteering is a way to do this safely in lockdown while also giving back to your community and is something more young people should do. Sadly, the age group of the volunteers at the Newtown mass Vaccination Site is moslty comprised of those over the age of 50.
Some people recieving their first innoculation had not left their houses since the first lockdown commenced last March and are nervous and stressed while coming in. In the over 80s categories, taking gloves off and changing masks are difficult and frustrating tasks with arthritic hands, and patients have to navigate hearing aids, spectacles and earrings as well. But smiles from volunteers, familiar conversations about the weather, and careful encouragement mean they are reasured as they leave the centre.
As a volunteer, you meet person after person who explains how big an event going to a mass Vaccination Centre is. First, patients have to find the centre and pull into the car park with hand-drawn maps and routes highlighted in pink. They are required to park in standard-sized car park spaces and interact in a large centre with a lot of people, not a small task for those who have not driven a car since the pandemic started last March. The whole experience could be extremely overwhelming, and volunteers are essential to keeping patients’ anxiety low. Handing patients form person to person ensures that they always know exactly where they are going whether it is down the hall or to the right.
While volunteering you will experience the colour and vibrancy of the public. Some patients come in with large bags stocked with individually wrapped sweets to donate to the volunteers and staff. Farmers on a reserve list may be on a quad bike in a field somewhere and get a phone call to come down to the vaccination centre as soon as possible. One young farmer even took off his wellies worried that they were too muddy to wear in the centre and so padded through in his socks! Some ladies wear berets and beautiful brooches, and gentlemen come in pressed shirts, but no matter what they wear, most people arrive with a twinkle in their eye that tells you they are smiling underneath their masks.
One theme rings true in the over 80s categories; they come with such a belief that this vaccine will save them from dying or dying alone. They realise the vaccine as their key to freedom. They have carefully cocooned themselves for a year and now, much like a butterfly, the vaccine is giving them wings to escape from the cocoon and get back to normal life. All the volunteers at the centre have expressed how in awe they are of the grace and quiet enthusiasm with which these people have attended their vaccines.
As we have progressed to second vaccinations in Powys, it warms volunteers’ hearts as they are remembered by patients from their first vaccinations. Patients faces’ light up and a pleasant “I remember you!” is exclaimed loudly. You realise how instrumental a friendly face is in ensuring people go through the centre happily and calmly after months of not stepping past their front doorstep. One young RAF serviceman suggested creating a “farm car section” in the car park in which to park the trucks. Shortly after, volunteers began to notice car park socials and would find three or four farmers who by chance had their appointments on the same day, socially distanced leaning on the bonnets of their trucks having a good chat.
Even more delightful is going to check on patients in the car park after they have had their vaccinations and finding them having picnics in the car, their laps laden with sandwiches and tea. This speaks to the distances some people have had to travel to attend their vaccinations; at times travelling up to 60 miles down small mountain roads through all types of weather, but still arriving with smiles on their faces. As a volunteer, you will find that patients never fail to express how grateful they are for the volunteers and NHS staff. People are so delighted as they come to the centre. Perhaps the end of this pandemic is truly in sight. One thing is certain, the resilience and heart of this population are unquestionably inspiring.
It is safe to say that the volunteers at the Newtown mass Vaccination Centre have gone above and beyond to make the vaccination experience as welcoming as possible. They have even painted the car park shed a brilliant shade of pink, dotted it with cartoon covid vaccines and included a welcome in English and Welsh. These volunteers have grown in number with everyone encouraging friends and neighbours to take part.
The reality is that this pandemic will one day be remembered as a major historic event, and being a part of this process is inspiring in itself. As a volunteer, you will own part of this event and have your own story to tell. Whether you wipe down chairs or manage a car park, volunteering will open your eyes to the strength of the public and undoubtedly touch your heart.