COVID Creates Challenges

No one could have guessed this is where we would be as a world. I remember reading about the first discovery of the coronavirus and never once thinking it could evolve into what we are experiencing today. This epidemic has affected my family in many ways. I live in Montgomery County which was one of the early epicenters of the virus in Pennsylvania. Early on, a student at the local high school tested positive for Covid-19. Late one evening we received a call from the Health Department letting us know that my brother had been identified as someone who had been in contact with this student and would need to self-quarantine for the next 14 days. Since my mother and I had been with him consistently over the preceding days, we felt it would be prudent to self-isolate as well. This situation was especially troubling as my mom has a suppressed immune system and is considered high risk. And just as this was sinking in, I learned that my father was abroad in the Dominican Republic where the borders were being shut down. Thankfully, my father was able to return to the United States this Sunday and is in quarantine in Philadelphia.

One of the biggest takeaways I was looking forward to experiencing was the true impact of reciprocity. CEOLI, my group and I all had much to gain through the completion of this program.

One of the benefits we learned about traveling and interacting with other cultures is the development of intercultural competence. This, along with furthering my experiential education were philosophies I was excited to be involved in firsthand. My passion for travel and immersing myself within other cultures is to understand the world better and explore new ways of navigating life. My communication with others is limited to those of similar backgrounds. I was looking forward to taking what I’ve learned about the Bolivian culture and appropriately communicating and working with them. Ethnocentrism is an interesting perspective to study, and I have done so in another class. I knew the full magnitude of what having a superior view on one’s own culture can have, and I was sure to be cautious of this. My goal for traveling and interacting with other cultures is to broaden my view on the world and to be more mindful of how I communicate with other societies. In addition to travel, I have a deep interest in volunteer work. Learning the difference between volunteering and service-learning was fascinating to me and I couldn’t wait to fully experience the difference. Not traveling to Bolivia forces me to give up personal growth opportunities. The students of Bolivia also sacrifice this as our work could have relieved stress in their daily lives.

Much of my team’s progress was contingent upon going to Bolivia and conducting in-country work. Now with this component taken away, we are unable to complete everything we had originally promised to our client. In-country, we were planning to conduct research for CEOLI on a juice stand they were hoping to build and operate to provide the organization with another source of income. At the end of this program, our clients were promised and expecting to receive more information about two deliverables. My team broke up into two groups to tackle these deliverables: card sales and the juice stand. Working for the University and having connections to the university stores, I joined the card sales team. I work as an Office Assistant for the Business & Auxiliary Services Department at Pitt. My boss, the Human Resources Coordinator, is tasked with overseeing the University Stores. Having my boss’s knowledge and contacts as a resource were helpful. I researched possible channels of sales for the CEOLI cards. However, as I began contact with the managers, the fears of the coronavirus arose, and many efforts of the University shifted to ensuring the safety of the students, staff, and faculty. With the closing of stores in Pittsburgh and the country, we are not able to communicate with businesses to try to sell the cards through their stores. This situation has prohibited us from following through with this promise, but we are now able to tell the story of Bolivia and CEOLI and how they desperately need our help even more than ever. We are transitioning our efforts from selling in-store to personal selling. Other team members and I have CEOLI cards on hand and are going to write handwritten notes using the cards to increase awareness. Although we will not be able to meet our clients and see firsthand the work they are doing, we are trying our best to deliver as much of the promised material as possible.

We talked a lot in class about adaptability but putting it into practice was a struggle. For me, and many others I assume, the shock of it all took some time to dissipate. The moment we received the email about all spring break travel being canceled is still clear in my mind. I experienced many emotions that day and the subsequent ones: shock, sadness, and anger. It was hard to believe that a trip my peers and myself had prepared for since the beginning of the semester was canceled so quickly. This program was something I knew I had wanted to participate in since the first semester of my freshman year. Many of my friends had participated in this program and had raved about it endlessly. For me, signing up for this was a no brainer. Since I had anticipated traveling to Bolivia, it was hard to accept the situation. Nevertheless, I knew what was happening around the world and understood that this was in the best interest of everyone. This idea was even further emphasized to me when speaking to my advisors for the class. They helped put into perspective what the University was dealing with when making this decision. Learning that the first case of the coronavirus occurred during the week we were supposed to be in Bolivia was also a clear indication that the decision made was the best one. Sitting in my house away from my friends, I can’t imagine being at school, especially not being in another country. I am more accepting of the situation although still heartbroken. It’s nice to be able to share my feelings with my group who understand my emotions and thoughts. We are working together to provide the most benefit to CEOLI and that also helps the situation. After the initial shock, my group and I reconvened to review our scope of work and decide what material could still be delivered to the client. It was disappointing deciding which deliverables we would not be able to carry out, but we focused our efforts on providing more high-quality work for those that were still in our scope. My source of sadness has shifted from not being able to go to Bolivia to not being able to provide the initially promised work.

It’s hard to predict the entire ramifications of the coronavirus on the world. We still do not know how else the virus will impact daily life in the United States. Being well developed, we are in a better position than most countries that are not as well equipped to handle this health crisis. Preparing for our trip, my group and I only anticipated the upcoming election as a possibility for prohibiting our travel there. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, so they do not have access to nearly as many resources as we do in the United States. They are going to extreme measures to contain the virus and protect their citizens. This past Sunday, the Bolivian interim leader Jeanine Áñez began Bolivia’s 14-day mandatory quarantine in an effort to reduce the number of cases occurring which have been reported to be 20 on Monday. As a result, the presidential election that was originally scheduled for May has been postponed indefinitely. Authorities have been given the order to not allow citizens to disobey the quarantine. Much like other countries, this quarantine is in the best interest of the public. Additionally, the quarantine requires everyone to be at home at all hours of the day. Sadly, there has been push back from the public as some people are seen wandering the streets. The minister is considering resorting to arresting citizens who disobey the quarantine. He recognizes this measure is drastic but necessary to defeat the spread of the virus. Such an arrest will include detention for eight hours and a fine equivalent to 70 dollars. In addition to inter-country quarantine, Bolivia has closed its air and land borders since Saturday.

As I see the drastic measures that Bolivia is taking, it seems selfish of myself to be angry that we could not travel there. They are going to extreme lengths to contain the virus and supporting my group in our project is the least of their worries. Medical officials are working tirelessly around the world to find a cure. An official statement issued by the directors of the largest public hospital complex in La Paz reported that they are experiencing a lack of supplies to deal with this situation as well as a lack of preparation of medical personnel. The statement also said “We do not have the minimum supplies such as caps, chinstraps, boots, glasses, gowns, and even less high-end supplies such as intensive care medicines. They send us to war without weapons, condemning us to fight in unfavorable conditions.”

When my group revisited our scope of work, we identified many areas that were affected by this change. Most of our research and project focused on in-country work and research. We are changing our project so that we can do as much as we can for CEOLI. Much of the work we wanted to complete is being prepared for next year’s group to complete. We are compiling a list of questions and actions that we could like our Amizade contact to look in to. This includes in-country research on their food industry so that we can create a business plan for CEOLI to open and operate their own juice stand. Originally my group and I had prepared a survey for the citizens in order to learn more about their food culture and how to create the most successful juice stand we could for them. Now, we are hoping our contacts at CEOLI can find this information for us so that we are still able to deliver a business plan. In terms of card sales, we have sadly seen a significant change in that area. Many businesses in the country have shut down. Therefore, we are not able to find a suitable channel of sale for the cards. To make the most of the situation, we are compiling resources and actions that next year’s group traveling to Bolivia can use to find a proper business to sell the cards.

My heart goes out to everyone especially those who are battling this situation with less than ideal circumstances. I hope that as a world, we come out of this stronger and more united. We are all hoping for a swift resolution to this crisis. We need to keep in mind that we are all in this together and we will only see an end if we work together and keep everyone’s best interest at heart. Good luck to everyone.