It is insane to think that it has now been over a year since the beginning of the pandemic. In its earliest days, I remember naively thinking that the ten or so cases in China were an isolated incident and were just another crazy bump in the beginning of 2020. If I could go back in time to January 1st, 2020 and tell myself all about the virus that would tilt the whole world on its access, I would have never believed it. Along with most of my friends and family, I have now received my first dose of the vaccine and am excited for life to start shifting back to normal. Unfortunately, many areas of the world will not be on the same schedule as the United States. Even with all of America being incredibly unprepared for a major global pandemic, we were still in better shape than most other countries, especially those that lack the same level of influence, infrastructure, and wealth. While things are slowly beginning to look up, this is not the case everywhere.
Bolivia is just now coming down from their biggest spike in cases yet, with a rolling average of 2257 cases per day in the beginning of February. Compared to the United States, Bolivia’s vaccine rollout is incredibly stunted. While 32.4% of the American population is currently at least partially vaccinated, only 1.8% of the Bolivian population has received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It will take much longer for Bolivia to receive the required number of vaccines and properly distribute them before they are able to return to life as it was before. The slow pace of the climb towards normalcy also greatly impacts organizations, as they are forced to limit their service capacities for even longer. This causes further financial stress and increased need within their communities.
With Bolivia being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it is fair to assume that Bolivia most likely does not provide the same level of social security and support to businesses and nonprofits as the United States. In America, this is especially prevalent given our recent election and turn-over of power to a president who is more supportive of welfare and social funding. Unfortunately, the Bolivian labor market is dominated by informal work, and the country does not boast a strong healthcare system. This means Bolivians who do not work in the formal market have most likely been shuttered out of work for months on end as the pandemic rages on. Sparse work opportunities combined with poverty and a struggling healthcare system are not ideal characteristics of a society facing a never-seen-before illness. Not only does this financial struggle hurt those who provide services by preventing them from being able to properly interact with their clientele, but many of their customers are also unable to spend as much money on nonessentials.
Specifically with our client, CEOLI, the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic have been devastating. Before the pandemic erupted last March, CEOLI had been steadily progressing on their way to achieving full financial independence. They were serving one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty students, ages two to roughly twenty-five. With the onslaught of the pandemic, they have now been pushed back several steps in terms of fiscal independence and their service capacities. They are only able to serve about sixty students at the moment and are hoping to get those numbers back up as the pandemic wanes. The events of the last year have also severely impacted the services they are able to provide and the number of employees they are able to support. With rules such as social distancing in place, they are simply not able to host the same activities such as classes and swimming lessons like they did before. Of course, this limits their stream of revenue, but also deprives their community of the much-needed support they provide.
The story of CEOLI is not unique – organizations all over the world have faced tragic financial setbacks, drastic reductions in service capacity, and some have even been forced to close their doors for good. While many American organizations are suffering the same fate, it is reasonable to assume that many other countries’ do not have the same level of infrastructure and welfare that the United States is able to provide. This is a sad reality of the pandemic, that often those in need are the ones that suffer the most. This motivates our group to do the best we can to help our client in any way possible.
Relating to our project, the virus and its’ impacts on CEOLI have definitely created new obstacles for us. On the grant writing side, many foundations have altered their qualifications to more covid-specific initiatives or skipped over this year’s application cycle all together. On the art show side, the pandemic has made a major shift. We now have to plan a virtual art show, which comes with its own technical difficulties and slowed communication, not to mention the brainstorming required to make an engaging art gallery on a website.
Luckily, since we have been virtual for about a year, we all have had ample time and practice to get used to working academically and professionally through applications like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. My technological skills have definitely improved, even though I can feel my 20/20 vision getting blurrier and blurrier every day. Taking classes online is one thing, but collaborating with a client who lives on another continent is a whole other ballgame. Meeting online, there are many more awkward pauses as we accidentally speak over one another or forget to click the unmute button. Even though we are a year or so in to using this technology, there are still many bumps along the road that we haven’t gotten used to yet. Another major difficulty is not being able to meet in person with our groups, it has definitely impacted our motivation and ability to get to know each other better. Obviously, the language barrier is the largest obstacle to communicating directly with our client. Zoom meeting pressure is real, the environment is so different than face-to-face interaction. If we were in Bolivia, I would have no hesitation talking to our client in only Spanish. Even with fourteen years of Spanish classes, something about being on a big zoom meeting makes my confidence in my language skills plummet. Hopefully one day I will get the chance to visit and use these skills then!
Being online does have its positives, it allows us a kind of accessibility and flexibility that would not be otherwise possible. It’s comforting to know that if we have any pressing questions, we can shoot off an email to Amizade or CEOLI and get an answer within a few days. Of course, email is not anything new, but now everyone is living and working through their devices. Being nonstop attached to our devices is not the most enjoyable or sustainable lifestyle, but at the moment it streamlines communication and make everyone easier to reach. Another major positive is the scheduling aspect. All of us involved in the project, especially us students, have wildly different class and club schedules, so everything being online has made it a lot more convenient! In addition to meeting online, we are able to use different scheduling websites to find the best time slots to meet. We are spread out all along the country, with some of us signing in from Texas or California. Without the pandemic, we probably would not have thought this simultaneous method of cross-country collaboration would have been possible. The pandemic has caused pain and suffering for all us of, but at the end of the day I am grateful to still be able to make these meaningful connections.