The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the doctors and nurses battling the disease, but they couldn’t work at the front line unless someone was willing to clean it.
Janvier Korongo, a cleaner with the housekeeping unit at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, was one of the first volunteers.
“The manager was in a meeting and she was asking, ‘Who wants just to be a volunteer to go to work in COVID assessment?’ That was the first time we hear about COVID,” he said Friday.
“Because we are the key, eh? The housekeeping, we are the key. Because if we don’t make sure everything is safe, we are going to contaminate many people.”
Korongo saw it as a way to serve his new country. “We need to be like a soldier. A soldier, if the country gets a problem, you don’t have any excuse. You just need to go and fight.”
Korongo knew it was dangerous work, but he’d long known how dangerous the world can be. Most of his family was killed in the Rwandan genocide and he spent 10 years as a refugee in Uganda.
He also volunteered with the Red Cross during an Ebola outbreak.
“I remember the time I was in Congo. It was an epidemic worse than corona,” he said.
“But then I get a chance, I get a settlement here in Canada, and that was amazing. I will never forget that day they told me, ‘You’re welcome to Canada,'” he added with a broad smile.
He moved directly to Nova Scotia in 2016. French is his first language — his first name is the French word for January — and he worked hard to learn English. He earned his high school diploma and got work picking strawberries.
Fighting COVID-19, one wipe at a time
He finally got the housekeeping job at the QEII. He did a three-month tour on the COVID screening unit. He worked early mornings and late nights, tracking each person’s movement and cleaning every spot they touched.
“I didn’t think about money — because I was working 12-hour days and it’s good money. But every day I was thinking, How we can figure out this COVID, just to finish it?”
Korongo is back now on his regular cleaning duties at the hospital, keeping his new home safe, one wipe at a time.
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