Hajj 2021: medical volunteers given specific missions

A total of 100 health professionals have been selected to keep pilgrims safe, with one group specifically assigned to ensure Covid-19 protocols are observed

From left, Adel Al Banagali, Fatma Assisi, Mahasen Shiub and Dr Marwan Alsafadi are among 100 medical volunteers assisting with Hajj this year.

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A select group of 100 volunteers will be helping the Saudi Health Ministry to keep pilgrims safe during the second Hajj to be held during the coronavirus pandemic.

The medical workers, ranging from specialists in fields such as infection control and respiratory health to therapists and nurses, were chosen from more than 3,000 applicants, Hamad Feehan, spokesman for the Makkah health authority, told The National.

“This year we have a unique volunteering opportunity, with specialists and consultants from rare specialities joining us,” he said.

The volunteers will be overseen by Mahasen Shiub, who has 14 years' experience assisting the faithful as they perform one of the five pillars of Islam.

“Even if I thought of not volunteering, I just couldn't,” Ms Shiub, a resident of Makkah, said.

Mahasen Shiub, a resident of Makkah, has volunteered during Hajj for more than a decade.

The volunteers have been divided into four groups, with the specialists to be based at the East Arafat hospital and a second group assigned to work at six clinics near the holy sites in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah.

Ms Shiub said one group was specifically assigned to ensure Covid-19 protocols are observed.

“They will be placed in all the places that the pilgrims will be: around the Holy Mosque, and at the points of gathering when they arrive and leave Makkah,” she told The National.

Adel Al Banagali, a respiratory therapist from Makkah who has been treating Hajj pilgrims for 20 years, decided to offer his services as a volunteer three years ago.

“It is a different feeling when you work for free. You don't feel like you are under pressure to go to your duty, or you have to do your work; you only feel you want to do this for God,” he said.

He felt blessed to be chosen again this year.

“They usually don't take many people, so when you are among the few chosen to serve the guests of Allah, this is a great honour.”

He said the best feeling was when the pilgrims pray for him.

“When you help for free, and then they pray for you with tears, it just touches my heart.”

For Fatma Assisi, volunteering in Makkah involves a 700 kilometre journey from her home in Jazan, a trip she has made every Hajj and Ramadan for the past four years.

“I have a passion for volunteering and a profound love to always give the best,” she said.

The Saudi Red Crescent employee said volunteering during Hajj was particularly rewarding.

“You receive the honour of working in a holy place and during holy times.”

Palestinian doctor Marwan Alsafadi will be working as a volunteer during Hajj for the first time.

After helping the health ministry to raise awareness of the pandemic and offering free consultations online, Palestinian family medicine consultant Marwan Alsafadi will be volunteering at the Hajj for the first time in his 20 years of practice.

“I'm excited and will give it all that I have. It seems like a different experience being placed in the centre of action,” Dr Alsafadi told The National.

Like many other volunteers, he will stay at the hospital in Mina while working at one of the clinics near the holy site.

While the experience will be new for Dr Alsafadi, it is something Ms Shiub cannot imagine living without.

“Since we were young, we have been used to seeing pilgrims around us and hearing their Talabya [Hajj prayer]," she said. “That feeling lives in our hearts, so not a single Hajj can pass without us trying to give everything we can for the pilgrims.”

Updated: July 18, 2021, 6:22 AM