Editor’s Note: All interviews in this article were conducted in Chinese and have been translated into English by the writers.
Responding to the outbreak and spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the Oberlin Chinese Student Association started a fundraising campaign Jan. 27, seeking donations from Chinese students and parents. The goal was to purchase protective suits in the U.S. to be donated to hospitals in the Hubei province of China, where coronavirus is believed to have begun.
When OCSA first collaborated with Chinese student associations at universities on the east coast, it found its first potential suit supplier. A few days later, however, the supplier backed out, and the order was canceled. Soon after the first attempt, OCSA found another supplier on its own. However, as it turned out, the second supplier did not work out either. According to Wenting Gao, a College second-year and the OCSA member tasked with contacting the suppliers, “the [second] supplier drove up prices to an unreasonable level, and they wouldn’t even let us see or inspect their goods.”
Finally, OCSA teamed up with Bard College, Colby College, and Vassar College. Once the alliance formed, the next step was actually finding a reliable supplier of protective suits.
“For the last week of Winter Term, all we were doing was contacting suppliers during the day, and coming together and reporting the progress at night,” said Gao. “For a few days in a row, I woke up receiving tons of messages from potential suppliers telling me they couldn’t do it.”
Fortunately, the colleges found the Chinese Student and Scholars Association of Cleveland Clinic, which pointed them toward a reputable supplier. However, this was just one step in a long process. Once protective suits were purchased, they still needed to go through both American and Chinese customs. Even once the supplies arrive in China, they cannot go directly to front-line hospitals and medical professionals. Instead, they must go through a short list of charities, including the Red Cross Society of China.
The Red Cross Society of China has a reputation for overstocking and mismanaging relief supplies. The lack of transparency and the procedural complexities have long caused public dissatisfaction. Yet the Red Cross Society of China is the only legitimate channel for donating supplies to the front line.
Still, according to Gao, the Cleveland Clinic CSSA found a way of directing the supplies straight to Huanggang Municipal Hospital via a contract agreement that looked somewhat like a recommendation letter.
Of the $12,472 raised from four liberal arts colleges, Oberlin College alone contributed $7,618. Gao recalled that, within the first 24 hours of fundraising, OCSA received about $5,000 from Chinese students and parents. She said this was because OCSA accepted both dollars and renminbi, while other liberal arts college student associations only accepted dollars. So far, the league of four liberal arts colleges has donated $11,000 to Cleveland Clinic CSSA for them to coordinate the purchase and delivery of relief supplies. Gao reports that the bundles are now in Chicago, waiting to be air-shipped by China Southern Airlines.
Along with fundraising efforts, there was a candlelight vigil held at Asia House on Feb. 13. Sponsored by OCSA, the activity provided students with a space to pray for Wuhan, understood to be where the outbreak began. Approximately thirty students gathered and observed one minute of silent prayer.
“However, sometimes on specific means to achieve the goals there were disagreements, as we have seen students debating on social media,” said Luke Chen, a College fourth-year and event organizer. “So I think this activity was not only to provide students a platform to share thoughts, but also to remind people that we have the same fundamental hopes; it sought to build a sense of community. We, as a group of three, planned the vigil in five days. If more people are willing to be a part, bringing in their diverse interests and perspectives, we may see a series of events centered around the coronavirus issue. And that series of events could have a much bigger impact than a single vigil.”
On March 6, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., there will be a conversation at the Allen Memorial Art Museum related to the coronavirus. “The candlelight vigil was quite direct to some people, so then we were thinking about an alternative way to open up discussions about coronavirus through artworks that are thematically related, such as those about diseases, disasters, bondings between people, and politics,” said Wenling Li, the third-year Environmental Studies and Economics major who came up with the idea. “AMAM was very supportive of our idea. … They have prepared a list of related artworks from a diversity of cultures and traditions.”
The event will consist of two parts— a tour of the gallery where the curators will introduce the visitors to the selected works, and a 20-minute discussion. Oberlin students should come out to this event to show their support for OCSA and for coronavirus victims. They are encouraged to bring in their perspectives, as well as exchange their concerns and responses to the issue of the coronavirus.