COVID-19: Taking action miles away from home

by Daniel Alexander

Daniel Alexander is Amizade’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator. Originally from Brazil, Daniel shares what it’s like to experience the COVID-19 pandemic so far from home.

Another silent day starts in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Not distant from the main avenue that connects us to the rest of the city, I hear traffic cruising by—fewer cars than usual. As part of my new daily routine, I work in my improvised office at the house, trying harder to follow the same schedule I had at the Amizade headquarters. Once in a while, when we have good weather, I go out on walks within the neighborhood. After a few strides, I found out that there’s a standard protocol shared by everyone to cross to the other side of the street every time running into neighbors, as a way to keep social distancing. At night, once everyone at the house is asleep, I stubbornly catch up on the news in Brazil, my home country, to realize that situation down there might get worse than here in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences have shown how far I am from my home community and family right now.

In June 2014, my wife and I landed in Pittsburgh. Inspired by many stories of travelers taking a gap year to improve skillsets and explore the world, we set a goal of spending one year in a global experience out of our comfort zones—and home. The plan was to spend the first three months volunteering with Amizade and its community partners while we’d figure out the next steps of our adventure. Well, life shifts. Because of a job opportunity with the organization, we decided to stay longer. What started with a one-year adventure turned into raising a family and owning a home in a different country.

Volunteering in Pittsburgh’s North Side in 2014

Volunteering with Amizade was a way to get immersed in the culture of the U.S. Working for Amizade is now a key element to stay connected with Santarem, my home town in Brazil. As the site liaison for the country, I have the opportunity to pump global engagement into my community, helping participants of a Fair Trade Learning experience to see the world through one lens, and also helping catalyze the impact of local initiatives through these connections. Concurrently, this opportunity has led me to meet inspiring people from different corners of the planet and boosted my will to make this world a better place for everyone.

My journey seemed to be on its tracks until 2020. COVID-19 threw cold water on everyone’s plans, bringing program cancelations and uncertainty about the future. The virus is a threat to all of us, including our community partners in Brazil, and especially, my parents who remain living in my home town. As confirmed cases rise in Santarem, I see my father and mother surrounded by COVID-19. Two cases were diagnosed a few feet away from their apartment, which took my anxiety levels to outer space. At this point in quarantine, it’s nearly impossible to hop on a flight to Brazil to assist them in case of a possible infection, leaving me stranded in Pittsburgh. Fortunately, I can count on a strong network of friends to support them in these darkest times.

Although I’m quarantined, I opted to take action from far away. While I help our staff unroll Amizade’s next steps, I’m currently volunteering in virtual space along with college professors and entrepreneurs in my home community. Together, we created a website named COVID Santarem, where natives can find news about the impact of COVID-19 in the region, and also a portfolio of businesses assisting the community with delivery services. We believe by doing that, we can avoid misinformation within the community and centralize helpful resources, hopefully making the hard work of health professionals and frontline workers a little easier. That’s my small contribution to a place that still lives in my heart and I care so much.

For now, I remain in my routine along with my family, helping others in my current capacity, and looking for better days to come. Stay home if you can, but don’t forget that others are out there fighting this battle. Connect with your neighbors, join initiatives, or if you can, make donations to organizations on the frontline. Any good action is meaningful in this pandemic. A little stone thrown into the water can generate many waves.

Daniel with Amizade Appalachia SD Nate Siggers, and a group of international scholars from the Fulbright Program in 2018.