Civic Engagement of Higher Education Students and Teachers in Times of Covid-19 pandemic: Cases collected in Romania in March 2020
From social distancing to social cohesion
While social distancing is a worldwide accepted measure for the prevention of aggressive spreading of SARS-CoV-2 virus, several spontaneous community-oriented activities and projects have started to emerge in response to the current needs of the community, such as: shortage of medical protective equipment for medical staff and lack of access to daily life supplies of elderly population.
Social isolation and the switch to remote forms of education represent strong challenges in terms of planning and implementing direct in-person volunteering and Service-Learning activities. However, in many countries, experts in Service-Learning have started to observe and document cases of community-oriented activities involving cooperation between teachers, students and community partners in times of pandemic. These cases might serve either as current examples of building reflective exercises in online classes in the direction of empathy and civic responsibility development of students, or as solid points for the justification of the need of Service-Learning institutionalization in order to be prepared to face similar challenges in the future through civic participation.
Civic engagement of Romanian students and teachers in times of Covid-19
The cases presented bellow have been collected in March 2020 from the Romanian media channels, by using the key search words: community needs, students and teachers, Covid-19. Although only few of them meet the criteria of being categorized as Service-Learning activities, the other cases, such as structured and unstructured volunteering reflect, too, modalities of civic engagement of Higher Education Institutions in times of pandemic, which would easily allow the transition to Service-Learning.
1. Involvement of Medical Students in helping the management of Covid-19 patients
- University of Timișoara – A call for recruitment of volunteers was published on the official website of the University, in the attention of Medical Students in their 4th, 5th or 6th year to get involved in helping the prevention of aggressive spreading of SARS-CoV-2. A contact of a teacher is provided, who is in charged with the training, monitoring and organizing of the volunteering activities. No specific information is offered regarding the crediting and official recognition of the volunteering activities.
- Source: Universitatea de Medicină şi Farmacie “Victor Babeş”, Timişoara
- Medical University of Târgu-Mureș: Students from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Medicine, Pharmacy, Science and Technology (UMFST) Târgu Mureş have decided by themselves to volunteer to help in the fight with coronavirus COVID-19. The students stated that they joined the unified purpose from all the university centers where the medicine is studied in the world. At the moment, given that the majority of students are leaving the university center, only who live in or near Mureş County can effectively help, which means about 300-400 students. One of the student representatives stated: “As a personal opinion, we were probably not asked for support as we were not allowed to do this, because we are students and do not have the necessary experience. But instead, if it reaches such a high level that we are called as students, we will say yes, because we have to help the world”.
- Source: National Press Agency AGERPRES
- Medical University of Arad – About one hundred students from the “Vasile Goldiş” (UVVG) Arad Western University Medical Education programs volunteered in hospitals in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic. Also, other volunteers from the University, i.e. from the Psychology specialization, interact with the elderly by offering online sessions of social support. Since the beginning of the measures taken by the authorities to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, UVVG Arad has provided a location in the county that has been transformed into a quarantine center.
- Source: Ro Health Review
- Medical University Sibiu – A number of 35 students from the Faculty of Medicine in Sibiu have announced that they are volunteering to help hospitals in the city, in the fight with the new coronavirus. The dean of the Faculty stated to the press: “I started recruiting on a voluntary basis the medical students and the general medical students, according to the order signed by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The lists of volunteers are made by the representative students of each cohort”. According to the quoted source, of the 35 volunteer students, 26 are from Medicine, and nine are from General Medical Assistance.
- Source: Turnul Sfatului Online
2. Involvement of students in food and daily life products delivery to isolated elderly and other vulnerable persons
- Civil Engineering School of University of Bucharest – Around 100 students from all over the country have started a campaign to help the most vulnerable among us – the elderly, parents with children, people who cannot move. The students do their shopping, so that they do not expose themselves to the risk of illness. Journalists joined some of the students to document a day in the life of these volunteers. The Students’ Association of Technical and Civil Engineering in Bucharest started the “Students deliver” campaign, based on the model made Geeks for Democracy. Just a few days after the project started, the student association gathered nearly 100 volunteers throughout the country, half of them in Bucharest, the capital city of Romania. They receive orders, make purchases and deliver for free the food and necessary items in Bucharest, Timișoara, Slatina, Buzău, Târgoviște, Botoșani and Iași. They have dozens of orders daily. Feedback received from the beneficiaries: “You made me cry. You are my heroes, you know. “
- Source: Libertatea
- The Convention of Student Organizations in Craiova, in partnership with the Student Association of the Faculty of Social Sciences Craiova decided to implement the project “Happiness Factory – Together in the struggle with Covid19“. This project aims to limit the movement outdoors of vulnerable people for shopping, as they can receive the food they need through volunteers. The objectives of this project are: to create a network of volunteer students, to support vulnerable and distressed people (over 60s, people with disabilities, people without incomes), finding partners to support their goals, actively involving students in community support. The students will be provided with a bicycle to be able to move more easily to shopping centers and to the
homes of people in need. For the safety of the volunteers, disposable facial masks and medical gloves, as well as daily disinfection products will be provided. The students stated: “We will try to create partnerships with different commercial complexes to support these actions, as well as with state institutions that can get involved in these types of problems”. A website was created for the project, i.e. www.ajutorcoronavirus.ro, where the available phone numbers will be displayed. An area of donations was set up on the ground floor of the Student Dorm 6, the headquarters of the COS (Convention of Student Organizations), where people will be able to bring non-perishable food items and hygiene products.
- Source: Stiricurate
3. Involvement of students and teachers in the production of medical equipment
- Transilvania University of Brașov has started up two microproduction lines based on 3D printing technology for the production of the visors used by medical personnel. Production capacity reached 40 pieces / day, and the first batch of 75 visors (based on models used in other European countries) were completed on Saturday. They are to be donated to hospitals in Brasov (Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Clinical Hospital of Pneumophysiology, Clinical Hospital of Obstetrics Gynecology Brasov, County Clinical Emergency Hospital Brasov). Several volunteer students, coordinated by a university professor joined this initiative. So far, 9 students, 4 graduates and 7 teachers, researchers and doctoral students have been involved in this activity.
- Source: Radio Romania Tg Mures
- University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest: Students, together with two other teams of youth volunteers, started to develop alternative solutions for medical protective equipment against COVID-19, such as visors made of PET plastic. According to a press release of the University, the first initiative was started by the Society of Medical Students of Bucharest (SSMB), together with the team Viziere.ro, a consortium of organizations of young Romanian inventors from Nod Makerspace, Clarkvision and The Plot, aiming to develop alternatives for medical protective equipment – protective visors made of PET plastic. PET visors or 3D printed glasses are the best example of youth mobilization for a quick and concrete solution to protect patients and healthcare professionals. The members of the project encourage civil society to support this non-profit initiative and the volunteers. One of the leaders of the project stated: “Currently, the medical sector is going through very difficult times. With the increase in the number of infected persons, it is possible that some hospitals may end up exhausting the stock of protective equipment provided…It is very important to ensure the protection of the medical staff in order to implicitly ensure the treatment of patients infected with COVID-19 and to be able to fight this virus effectively.”
- Source: National Press Agency AGERPRES
4. Involvement of students and teachers in helping the local producers in agriculture
- University of Galați: In view of the crisis generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the “Dunărea de Jos” University in Galați, through the Faculty of Automatic Control, Computers, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and the Galaţi County Agriculture Department have started an official collaboration to support the local farms producers. Thus, within the domain producatorilocali.ugal.ro, made available for free for 6 months by the University, specific web pages will be created that allow local agricultural producers to receive online orders from customers, in order to facilitate marketing of local agricultural products. The dean of the Faculty of Automation, Computers, Electrical and Electronic Engineering stated to the press that these web pages are to be created on volunteer basis by the students of the faculty, already having a significant interest in joining the project expressed by the students of Computer Science.
- Source: “Dunarea de Jos” University of Galati
5. Cases of recommendations for online Service-Learning activities
- University Ovidius Constanța – In the context of the current epidemiological situation, the Senate of Ovidius University in Constanța has published an official statement with institutional measures to fight against the infection with coronavirus: Development and implementation, together with the faculties of profile of a software of statistical evaluation and epidemiological management, program that will be put, free of charge, at the disposal of the competent authorities, close collaboration with the student organizations, in particular with the “Association of Medical Students and Young Physicians of Constanta” within the Faculty of Medicine and “League of Students” and supporting their involvement, on a voluntary basis, in complementary, supportive actions, such as statistical analysis, call center, etc. The statement specifies that these actions will not, in any form, expose the students involved in direct contact with patients or other possibilities of infection with COVID-19. The University staff considers that these measures represent a realistic assumption of the social responsibility of the university.
- Source: ZIUA de Constanta
6. Spontaneous volunteering actions initiated by students rehomed in rural areas
- Vaslui – Two students from Stănilești, Vaslui, one of the regions with the highest density of low inco
mes families in Romania, have refused to stay apart these days, when many elderly people are isolated in their homes and may not have anyone else to look after them. The two students, by using their personal car, go to the houses of these elderly and ask them about their needs. Some want young people to buy them food items, but others ask them to pay their bills. In the case of elderly people that cannot afford to pay for the food, donations are provided by other members of the community that were motivated to help by the initiative of the two students. The young man who initiated this volunteering activity is a student in the third year in Military Medicine. He was joined by another student from Iași (Faculty of Computer Sciences). It seems that other students, now staying at home because of the coronavirus epidemic, want to get involved and take care of the grandparents in need in their home areas.
- Source: Vremea Noua
7. Providing advanced infrastructure and human resources for the professional diagnosis of Covid-19 infectious
- Universities from Cluj-Napoca: Several university centers in Cluj-Napoca are involved in the fight against the new type of coronavirus, said Sorina Noroc, from TVR Cluj. Higher education institutions offer both equipment and specialists. The University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine offers to the County Emergency Hospital high performance equipment for diagnosing suspected persons. Babeș-Bolyai University has provided access to diagnostic equipment, which can analyze 96 samples at a time. Several test kits were ordered by the University of Medicine and Pharmacy and several specialists volunteered to to work with these kits. Specialists from all universities are willing to carry out their activity in the laboratories of the Clinical Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Cluj-Napoca in the next period. Although there is equipment, the problem is actually the lack of testing kits. These kits are being ordered, but they usually arrive very late, because the terms of the contracts are not always respected.
- Source: Stirile TV
Author: Alina S. Rusu, Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, firstname.lastname@example.org