We Care We Share
An initiative of UN Bhutan- resilience tools for COVID-19
Volunteers lay to rest worries at the Hejo Crematorium
It was on the eleventh of August when the news of the national lockdown reached every household in Thimphu. Families and friends hurriedly alerted each other. As soon as the lockdown was declared, Rinzin Chophel rushed to the crematorium at Hejo.
He is a member and coordinator of the Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS). The BRCS team in Thimphu had been assigned to manage the cremation ground and assist in funeral requirements, according to the National Lockdown Contingency Plan of the Thimphu Thromde. Rinzin and his team had been visiting the cremation ground prior to the lockdown to ensure adequate measures were in place.
“As soon as I reached the cremation ground in early hours of the lockdown, I was informed that there were 11 corpses waiting to be cremated. Around 300 people who were gathered there started to panic, their concern now going beyond just grieving for their lost ones. They were worried about the funeral rites and rituals with the restrictions imposed on movement of people,” said Rinzin.
“We wanted to step in and help the families, this was an area where no one was involved before,” added Rinzin.
Rinzin and his team of 19 volunteers are currently living at the Hejo cremation site. Ever since the day of the lockdown, they decided to temporarily live within the premises of the crematorium to provide much needed services and help the bereaved families.
“We get up by 5:30 AM and clean the entire surroundings thoroughly. Thromde had kindly arranged a hotel for us near the cremation ground, but we decided to be put up within the compound,” said Rinzin.
The volunteer-team is divided into four groups. The first group takes care of the registration at the entrance including QR codes for tracing and providing face masks. The second group controls the crowd and monitors safety and proper physical distancing. The third group distributes refreshments and helps those in need of assistance, and the fourth provides firsthand response assistance in transporting corpses from the hospital or other places to the cremation ground. Rinzin is part of the fourth group.
“Initially, some of the challenges we faced was lack of food supplies for volunteers and the unavailability o firewood for funeral purposes. However, the Thromde office for permitted us to buy food supplies from a nearby shop and the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon provided large quantities of firewood,” said Rinzin.
The BRCS has volunteers forming twenty task teams across all 20 Dzongkhags where they have supported health officials in transporting patients, medical equipment and materials, delivery of essential goods to the public, feeding of dogs and critical services at cremation grounds.
“We were provided with a small pick-up truck to bring dead bodies from the hospital. You see, when your work is being encouraged and supported, you are motivated to actually perform your services to the best,” said Rinzin.
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