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Help and be helped

As an MS sufferer, Philippe Blumenthal is in a high-risk group for COVID-19, but he doesn’t see lockdown as a reason to sit around twiddling his thumbs. He is happy to help out in a neighbourhood project.

Text: Robert Wildi; photos: Kostas Maros

There are moments in our life when the time is right to try something new. For Philippe Blumenthal from Langendorf in the canton of Solothurn one such moment was when he turned 50. Having worked as a web designer and layouter for many years, he’d been thinking for some time about trying something new professionally. So, when he turned 50 he enrolled on a palliative care course due to start in July this year.

But the corona pandemic put paid to his plans, and anticipation of his new phase of life gave way to harsh reality. Philippe Blumenthal has had multiple sclerosis (MS) for 18 years and has to take medication that weakens his immune system, which puts him in the high-risk group for COVID-19. “I still go out of the house as little as possible and am grateful that friends and acquaintances quickly offered to go shopping and run other errands for me.”

Impressive helpfulness across all generations

But sitting idly at home was out of the question for Philippe. When he heard about the initiative “Gärn gscheh – Solothurn hilft” in the local press in mid-March, he immediately contacted the initiator Lena Lang. The young woman had set up a WhatsApp group and was looking for volunteers willing to help elderly and high-risk patients in Solothurn and the surrounding area.

Of course, Philippe Blumenthal – or “Phil” to his friends – wasn’t able to go shopping for others because of his illness, but he offered to help out with organisation in the core team. “It became apparent that particularly older people seeking help were struggling with getting in touch via WhatsApp or Facebook. So I suggested setting up the website gaerngscheh-solothurn.ch. This suggestion was well received.” As an experienced web designer, Philippe was in the perfect position to help out.

Everyone contributes what they can

Over the past few weeks, around 250 volunteers have been brought together with people seeking help via the “Gärn gscheh – Solothurn hilft” initiative. Philippe Blumenthal is by far the oldest volunteer in the group. He is seriously impressed by the spirit of his young fellow helpers who are all around 20 to 30 years old. “It’s great to see how, in times of need, young people show solidarity with the older and frailer members of our society.”

Helpfulness knows no age limit. At the start of the lockdown, a friendly gentleman from a neighbouring community contacted me and mentioned that he was also helping to organise relief and support, but said that he was no longer able to help out right in the thick of things. So I asked him how old he was, and he said that he was 80 and in charge of managing the volunteers from at home on his PC.

Dream team Phil and Gill

The corona crisis has been tough, but it’s stories and experiences like these that Philippe will remember for the rest of his life. And he wants to say a special thank you to his dog Gill. “She’s been a faithful and constant companion throughout the “gärn gscheh Solothurn” time. She’s kept my feet warm under the desk and reminded me with a sad look that no amount of swearing helps when something on the website doesn’t work,” says Philippe with a laugh.

His team will keep working for as long as there is demand for neighbourhood help in the Solothurn area. “Once the pandemic is under control, I’d like to get out more often with Gill and I hope to meet my colleagues from “gärn gscheh Solothurn” face-to-face over a cup of coffee.”