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May 31, 2022

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Angel ‘aunties’ nurture home-alone boy through 40 days of lockdown

When a medical worker couple were enlisted in the fight against the pandemic, they had to leave their 12-year-old son Youyou alone at home, until their neighbors, learning of the boy’s plight, helped him with daily meals for 40 consecutive days.

Many medics faced a similar situation, having to work at medical facilities, makeshift hospitals or quarantine sites under “closed-loop” management, meaning they could not return home — often for a couple of months — until relieved of duty and were then subject to a period of quarantine.

Given that Youyou’s parents were called to duty at the start of the anti-pandemic fight in late March, the boy had to spend the first three or four days of the new outbreak at home alone, in the company of a dog, eating fast noodles and managing his online study.

The unusual situation began to be noticed by neighbors who ultimately joined hands in supporting the boy through a neighborly feeding drive that lasted for about 40 days.

Youyou first came to the attention in early April of Sheng Xiaoyuan, a volunteer helping with routine nucleic acid tests in the community. Sheng noticed the boy was taking the test alone.

“Why do you take the test by yourself? Where are your mom and dad?” Sheng asked the boy who, at 170cm tall, appeared to be an adult at first sight, but whose babyish face at closeup was a giveaway.

Sheng learned that Youyou’s father was an ICU doctor at a hospital and his mother was head nurse in the Emergency Department of Yangsi Hospital in Pudong. Both were working at the forefront of the anti-pandemic fight, and their relatives and grandparents, all placed in lockdown, were unable to be of any help.

When Sheng posted the news about Youyou in the WeChat Group for volunteers in the community, seven neighbors, acting on an initiative first suggested by Shi Lan, and after securing agreement from his parents, decided to launch a “Love Feeding Group” that would be responsible for Youyou’s daily three meals.

The seven neighbors include a teacher, employees of foreign enterprises, artists and business people. They set up a weekly schedule whereby each of the seven, in addition to their volunteering work, would take care of the boy’s meals on a given day.

In this way, a new WeChat group, named “Fraternity and Care Among Neighbors,” was set up consisting of the seven caring neighbors, who became his default “aunties,” and Youyou’s “lockdown family.”

The first meal Youyou received was spaghetti with mushroom and ketchup, prepared by Shi.

Sheng, who first noticed Youyou, used to be a busy employee whose meals at home were prepared by her parents. To take better care of Youyou, she learned to cook by herself. In providing a proper meal for the boy, the seven aunties in the WeChat group paid particular attention to providing a balanced meal consisting of both vegetables and meat, and steamed rice always went with a soup. They also sought Youyou’s input, subsequently preparing steak, hamburger and pizza and providing drinks and snacks for him.

As these food providers also doubled as volunteers perpetually engaged in distributing supplies for residents, assisting with nucleic acid testing protocols, collecting antigen test kits, or standing guard, they were really super busy individuals. “Some of us also served as tuanzhang (group-buying leaders), thus sometimes we would juggle distribution of supplies with teleconferencing,” Shi said. In spite of this, they took the greatest care of Youyou’s daily meals.

Once they wanted to prepare a hamburger for Youyou, but they had run out of flour. The group took immediate action by arranging for flour to be sent by the fastest delivery available.

Nor were these seven aunties the only people solicitous of Youyou’s welfare. Some residents not in the group sent in meat and eggs at times. April 8 happened to be Shi’s mother’s birthday, so she also asked that a piece of cake be sent to the boy.

When the nurse mother posted the images of her son’s meals in her WeChat Moments, they drew a plethora of “likes” and comments. The mom believed the boy was having better meals than those from his parents, adding that when they returned home they would thank these good neighbors one by one.

“As medical professionals, in this special time, we are duty-bound to rush to the frontline in the anti-pandemic fight. Although our son has been known for his independence, as a mother, I am still somewhat concerned for his condition. But the generous help from our neighbors really takes the burden off my mind,” the mother observed. She added that in times of fatigue at work, she felt truly motivated and inspired when she learned from the WeChat group how the neighbors were engaged in heated discussion over how to better feed her son.

Thanks to the WeChat group, the neighbors could maintain regular communication with Youyou’s family. So when nucleic acid testing was required, Youyou would be put on the fast track.

When supplies arrived, Youyou’s mother would be alerted. When the boy needed a haircut, a neighbor stepped up to do the job. Youyou’s mother was truly moved: “My son has been in good hands. With perseverance, we are sure to win the fight against the pandemic.”

Not long ago, Youyou’s grandma arrived to accompany the boy, and thereafter the feeding group came to an end.

During this period the boy’s parents, applying their professional expertise, also helped provide medical care or medicines for residents in need of such assistance.

As neighbor Shi wrote in her WeChat: “The kindness deeply rooted within us, by warming others, also warms ourselves.”

(This article was first published in Chinese on May 18 in Pudong Fabu. Wan Lixin translated it into English.)


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