Over the last three months Ladakh has witnessed many ups and downs on account of COVID-19. It started with panic followed by a shortage of essential goods, protests over the stalled evacuation of pilgrims stranded in Iran and quarantine centres across India, and periodic reports of new COVID-19 positive cases in Ladakh. The administration, especially healthcare workers, has been on their toes even as people have remained confined to their homes.
In the midst of this chaos, a Ladakhi teacher has emerged as a beacon of hope for people around the world. In addition to spreading a positive message, Kifayat Hussain has also been trying to break stereotypes and prejudices that people have about COVID-19 and patients who have tested positive for it.
Kifayat is a mathematics teacher at Lamdon Model Senior Secondary School in Leh. He remains very popular amongst his students who are spread across Leh and Kargil districts. His popularity is largely due to his ability to teach mathematics by simplifying complex concepts and his commitment to students and the subject. I have had the privilege of being his student and can personally vouch for each of these qualities that make Kifayat a great teacher. He was very gracious and generous with his time when I called him to discuss his recent experience.
He explained that his life was fairly normal till 3 May. He was following his daily routine and conducting classes online. In early March, Ladakh’s first COVID-19 cases emerged in Kifayat’s village of Chushot in the neighbouring hamlet of Chushot Gongma. A few weeks later, COVID-19 positive cases also emerged in Chushot Yokma, which is Kifayat’s immediate neighbourhood. As a result of these cases, the whole village was declared as a containment zone.
Despite this, Kifayat continued his daily routine of conducting online classes. On 30 April, Kifayat voluntarily decided to the take the COVID-19 test despite not having any symptoms as he wanted to be sure he did not have the virus before he resumed school. Three days later, on 3 May, Kifayat’s test returned a positive result. “After our village was declared a containment zone, I decided to be safe and take the test. On 3 May, I was told that I had tested positive for COVID-19,” he explained. His initial reaction was one of anxiety. “I actually felt a little depressed initially after receiving the test result. I was then admitted to the dedicated COVID-19 ward at Mahabodhi Hospital for isolation and treatment,” he added.
At this point, he felt he had two choices; Respond to these developments with panic and fear, or channelise his energies to achieve something positive. Kifayat chose the latter. On 4 May, he spoke with the management and Principal of Lamdon Model Senior Secondary School, Leh. “They suggested that I continue taking my online classes from the hospital. I was already thinking along those lines as I wanted to remain busy and continue teaching,” he said.
In response to a request from the Principal of the school, the district administration agreed to allow Kifayat to continue his online classes from the hospital. The school ensured that the necessary teaching material was sent to him at the hospital and the medical staff provided the necessary infrastructure Kifayat needed to conduct his online classes.
I could not help but wonder how Kifayat was able to focus his attention and energy on teaching in the midst of all the chaos and fear as well as the physical and mental impact of being COVID-19 positive. He replied, “Teaching has always been close to my heart. I often travel to Kargil to hold free workshops on mathematics. Before I received the test result, I would be conducting online classes from early morning till late evening. This has been my nature and it helped me channel my energies towards more constructive pursuits rather than succumb to negativity and anxiety.”
He then added. “I feel there are a lot of misconceptions about COVID-19 that need to be cleared. I personally believe that this disease is not that dangerous for people who do not have other pre-existing health conditions. If people become more aware then they will voluntarily agree to be tested instead of shying away from it.”
When the news of Kifayat’s test results reached his friends and students, they started reaching out to him. “Initially, I received messages such as ‘Get well soon, Kifayat’ and ‘Take care of your health’. Later, as my teaching videos started to circulate on social media, people started sending me messages appreciating my efforts, encouraging me and giving me virtual pats on my back,” he said. These messages poured in from friends as well as current and former students whom he has taught over the last 12 years.
As the nationwide lockdown curbed people’s normal lives, I asked Kifayat about the importance of finding something to stay busy. He replied that compared to other professions teachers have an added responsibility to continue working as students are directly dependent on them. He added, “We cannot remain in isolation. Our lives and actions as teachers have a direct impact on our students. If we continue working for them, our students will benefit and be engaged in the process of learning. If I decide to just sit and brood, then my students will also suffer. Teachers must keep working even during the COVID-19 pandemic and remain accessible to their students through different channels.”
When asked about his own health, Kifayat said that he is indebted to the hospital staff. “All of them have been very generous, supportive and caring from the very first day. The doctors and the other staff have been very caring and polite. All of them have been diligently carrying out their responsibilities and remain deeply committed to the welfare of their patients. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about how I would pass my time at the hospital. Soon, I did not even realise how time was flying by. The doctors and the hospital staff remain available 24 hours of the day and look into every minute detail.”
He explained that the hospital staff had told him not to count the days at the hospital as he would only make himself miserable. “The mannerisms and the conduct of the medical team at the hospital is a big part of treatment that ensures that patients recover quickly. They are always available and keep checking for any symptom of ill health. We cannot get such care and support anywhere else. They ensured that I received vitamins and other medication as we still do not have a cure for COVID-19,” he added.
I asked him how his family coped with this experience, especially when he was away from home. He replied, “Our family is very important to us. Unfortunately, the misinformation that exists about COVID-19 means that our family members start to panic. Thankfully, in my case they remained calm and supportive throughout this experience. We were able to speak over the phone to ensure that we all stayed positive. However, as a society we need to address the prejudice and misconceptions about COVID-19, which often leads to unnecessary stress and fear. Awareness is important,” he concluded. Kifayat has now tested negative for COVID-19 and has been discharged from the hospital.
Text by Murtaza Fazily
Photograph by Anwar Hussain
Murtaza Fazily is part of the editorial team at Stawa.