As the country battles the coronavirus, a South African living and teaching in a Chinese city where the pandemic has been contained offers the assurance it can be beaten, and shares his own experience.
on Thursday told TimesLIVE that in the city of Xi’an where he is based, they are reaping the benefits of having followed strict lockdown regulations when they were first implemented at the start of the outbreak.
“None of our students have tested positive for Covid-19,” said Chili, who teaches English and biology to grade 10-12 pupils.
“It goes back to what the country did at the initial stages. We tried to avoid as much contact as comprehensively as possible … China was very efficient and good with how it dealt with it,” Chili said, quickly highlighting that it would be unfair to compare the strengths of the two countries.
“But when they said ‘lockdown’ here, it was really a lockdown,” said Chili, adding that they were strict with self-isolation and quarantine.
The 27-year-old teacher explained that during their lockdown, he spent 52 days indoors, not even going out for essentials. They structured things in such a way that a single person would go on essential runs and drop off items at each of their residences.
“They dealt with all the cases that were there and ensured that there were no people going outside, gallivanting. Everything was literally closed. The economy included. Everything was at a standstill,” he added.
Like South Africans back home, he also faced the hardships of the lockdown, saying they had salary cuts and were forced to survive on minimum wage.
“Times were very hard … Life completely changed during our lockdown.”
Chili said the coronavirus was a virus that required a different attitude. It needed discipline and for people to follow and support the authorities, he said.
In Xi’an, after weeks of lockdown, they reached a stage where on some days, there would be zero new cases reported. Chili said the attitude and behaviour of the people at the beginning of the pandemic contributed greatly to containment of the virus.
“It never reached a stage where the hospitals were being overwhelmed while we are going out to parties. We listened. No parties, no clubs and no gatherings meant just that,” he said.
As a precaution, pupils are still wearing masks and sanitising at his school. “It’s just for formalities but, honestly speaking, the outbreak is over in my city. We are OK here and things are much more relaxed,” he added.
Asked how South African teachers who are dealing with fear and anxiety could handle the virus, Chili said they should continue adhering to the rules and regulations being put in place by the authorities. “Though I believe, in my own individual capacity, that it wasn’t yet time to allow students to come back into the classrooms especially because it’s winter in SA … The same thing happened in China, it was at its peak during winter,” he said.
As things return to normal where Chili is based, the teacher, who is originally from KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal, is making waves as a foreign teacher.
At his school, he was recently awarded the teacher of the year award, after more than 95% of his biology students obtained straight As. He also achieved a 100% pass mark for both Life Sciences and English.
“It has not happened in eight years in the school. It’s not a norm because of the language barrier. Students do not perform well at times when taught by foreigner experts,” he said.
Asked about his future plans, the University of Pretoria alumni is doing his masters at the University of Hong Kong.
“Home is where the heart is. I’d love to come back home should there be a need for me to come back home and give back my skills. It’s part of the plan — when exactly, I am not sure,” he said.