Nima | Gelephu

Every time Sarpang went into a lockdown, a volunteer of Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS) helped people and health teams with service delivery.

Sonam Dorji, 36, is with the surveillance and contact tracing team this time, helping health officials with contact tracing and transportation during the mass testing for almost two months.

As the surveillance team was running short of vehicles with increasing cases from the community, the businessman helped surveillance team with transportation.

He picked up and dropped patients in need of medical service in the earlier lockdowns.

“I volunteered thinking I would be of help to people in need. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the country and people in these difficult times,” Sonam Dorji said.

He said that he gained experience and became aware of protocols after he worked repeatedly during the past lockdowns. “Health officials asked if I would be able to work this time. They were running short of vehicles in the initial days. I agreed to work with the surveillance team.”

Sonam Dorji fuels his own car used for the surveillance team and has spent over Nu 18,000 this lockdown.

There is no specified working time for the team he is working with. The day starts as early as 7am and returns to the containment centre at 6pm at the earliest. The meals are packed and dropped to the respective rooms.

The team also attends emergency cases during odd hours.

Sonam Dorji is not alone.

There are also about 30 BRCS volunteers working in containment mode in Gelephu, helping affected families in funeral rites and cremation during the lockdown and reach medical supplies to gewogs in the dzongkhag.

They also help families transport dead bodies to the crematorium from Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital and help the deceased families with cooking and the funeral rites.

The volunteers work in turns weekly. There is a team of six volunteers from BRCS at the Gelephu CRRH, ready to provide the people and health team with the required assistance any hours.

The dzongkhag coordinator of BRCS, Neykor, said the team gave their best support to the people who needed help. “Some of them scold us in frustration but there are many who appreciated our work. We are happy that we could help the country and people.”

He, however, said that not all volunteers cannot afford to fuel their car and some face challenges as they have to manage transportation on their own.

“There are protocols that need streamlining. People struggle to get monks for funeral rites. Sometimes there is no one supplying woods at the crematorium,” Neykor said.

He said some of the team members depend on donations from locals and business community in Gelephu to fuel their cars.

The dzongkhag supported the team with lodging facilities to date.

“We have to get permission while moving for duty. It is not convenient to ask for permission every time. We ran out of safety gears at times and handle the dead bodies without gloves,” said Neykor.

Gelephu CRRH helped the team with PPE when there were adequate supplies. The BRCS head office in Thimphu supplied safety gear to the volunteers recently.