Once it was clear Covid 19 was going to hit the UK hard, I decided to head back to where I grew up to report on it, to the Holme Valley in West Yorkshire, England. Large parts of my career have been spent covering wars in the Middle East, Ebola outbreaks in Africa or various other major international stories, but I could never have envisaged that I’d be covering one of the most important stories of all, from home where I was raised. A key reoccurring theme I’ve noticed in the last 6 weeks of my assignment, is kindness, the ‘kindness of strangers’ and it’s not the first time I’ve experienced it.
In Angola in 2003, I was working alongside Médecins Sans Frontières, who were providing support to 1000 refugees who’d been repatriated from Zambia. The inky dusk was laying its cloak over the huddles of refugees made up of families, including very young children right through to senior citizens. A man stood up from one of the many fires and beckoned me to come and join his family, he proceeded to cut up a chicken they had cooked and insisted I had the largest piece. Surely I couldn’t accept food from refugees who had so little themselves? But I had been given a great honour, they wanted to share what they had, despite having so little themselves.
Since then, I’ve experienced some of the worst of human behaviour in these situations, but I’ve also experienced some of the most generous. Here in the Holme Valley, I’ve seen a very similar kind of generosity. In 19th century, cottages that once echoed to the sound of looms making fine woollen cloth, women up and down the valley, my own mother included, are making scrubs for local medical staff as they are in such short supply. A local restaurateur whose business has been forced to close has turned her attention to making over 400 meals a day for medical staff at the local hospital. Next week, her enterprise will make its one hundred thousandth meal. Every Thursday at 8PM, the people of the Holme Valley come out of their homes to bang pots and pans, blow horns or simply clap as a mark of respect for the National Health Service. What seems so clear, is that the world over, in times of crisis, most people will seek to help those less fortunate than themselves, from Angola, to Aleppo, to the Holme Valley.