COVID-19 Update from Around the World

COVID-19 Update from Around the World

Everyone is experiencing a disruption in their life right now. However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that it is those who live in poverty and at the margins of society who are disproportionately affected. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have members on five continents. Most in active ministry are working with just such populations.

Please know that our individual actions affect those around us: people who cannot stock up on supplies, whose livelihoods are gone for the foreseeable future, who do not have a home in which to self-isolate. And in other parts of the world, people are living in places where the government has neither the will nor the capacity to deal with this crisis.

Please, do what you can to help those around you who are struggling from one day to the next. Below are some comments from sisters ministering in the US and around the world.

Sister Rebecca Trujillo

Sister Rebecca Spires

Sister Carol Wetli

Sister Gerry Bolzan

Sister Evelyn Fitzke

 

Sister Rebecca Trujillo in Nicaragua

April 2, 2020

It has been a week since Familias Especiales closed all its centers and activities, because of the corona virus. We will be closed at least till May 4th perhaps longer. It was a big ordeal to close and several of us have had to handle different aspects from our homes. We gave out over 400 packages of food; basic grains plus, just in time, we received some huge local donations of every type of vegetable. I cannot remember ever seeing so much food as we also had to close our yogurt factory, our lunch program, our restaurant and our small kiosks. Everyone went home with their food staples and much more as we sold things at a great discount in order to close, and gave more free fresh vegetables to enable people to stay at home. We are paying everyone’s salary as we said, “so that you can remain healthy and no one in Special Families will get the virus.” That is our hope and our dream. We said that we should err on the side of generosity, because so many have been generous to us and it is a hard time for everyone. In Artespecial we were making masks and had made over 1,000 to fulfil orders from groups. We had more orders over 3,000, but we decided that enough was enough because we did not want any of our vulnerable members getting sick making masks and possibly infecting others. It just didn’t make sense so we passed the order on to others who were making masks out of their homes.

Closing was complicated but we made it. We did have to make sure that several families in the mental health program received their medicine from the pharmacy and from the ministry of health. It is anti-convulsion medicine and psychiatric medicines.

We send you a prayer for our world and a video of a celebration that we had the day before we closed which was a little graduation ceremony for Christina who has worked for 6 years in the yogurt project. We needed to celebrate her and it meant a lot to everyone. Hope it brings you smiles in the midst of these trying times. Christina and other members had colds at the time so they were using masks. This is the day after we learned about a reported case in Nicaragua.

March 27th, 2020

We have just gotten our first case in Nicaragua and it seems many others have followed. But it is very hard to be able to keep up with this situation.  We are never quite sure what to believe on the internet, without other local media to confirm the information. We believe that we did not have any cases earlier because we have not had any foreigners visiting our country because of the crisis that we are living.  

Then, our government began a campaign of invitation to other countries to come to Nicaragua right when the pandemic was reaching other countries in Central America.  Those countries have closed their border to us as we began to receive visitors from big cruise ships. There were also large political rallies and a disaster simulation which involved large masses of people practicing emergency drills in that time before we had an official case. 

Public schools have remained open.  There are no tests for the virus available and there are no supplies like masks, much less respirators. Pharmacies and stores do not have a supply of liquid gel for washing hands and Vitamin C is not available. 

The pharmacies are overloaded with people and many of them are sick because we have been having unnatural weather for this time of year. It is normally the hottest time of the year but now it is cold and rainy. We have no idea how quarantines would work here because we have no facilities to house people.  Our health systems have progressively fallen into decay as we are facing the worst economic times since the 1980 Contra War.  All of this has created a state of panic on one hand and misinformation and optimism on the other because of the lack of news about the number of cases.

In the meantime, because of the work that we do with vulnerable people we had to take measures into our own hands. 

We have canceled all events (our programs rely on events to help motivate people with a handicap to participate in society).  We have closed our special education schools, and disability employment projects. We are asking anyone who is sick not to come into work.  We have sent workers who are most susceptible home until at least after holy week.

We will continue their salaries and each family is receiving a food basket of basic grains.  We have prepared 400 food baskets.  We are monitoring the best we can and meeting daily to make decisions about our work and how we will continue. 

I am trying to secure extra funding to be able to make it during this time. Economically, because even though our businesses had picked up, we are not going to be able to earn enough to stay open.   Our art area is making masks from the sewing projects.  We have large requests of 500 or 700 at a time from stores.  This idea came from the US embassy who contacted us to make the first masks.  

The Catholic Church has taken the lead in canceling all massive programs which is a lot in this time of Lent and Holy Week. 

We will continue with Sunday masses but will increase the number of masses with fewer people at each.  I am not sure how long that will last.  The dioceses have TV and radio programs and will be broadcasting more masses to encourage people to watch or listen from their homes.   All priests and religious are asked to not travel outside of the diocese and all meetings, classes, courses etc. have been canceled. 

The churches remain open.  For instance, the mass at 6 am was canceled today but the adoration chapel was open.   It seems that we will continue to have daily mass in the morning and in two masses in the evenings in our parish. But people are encouraged to not sit close to each other and to not have the greeting of peace and to receive communion in the hand.   Everything is really living moment by moment in uncharted waters so to speak.  We are getting word of Nicaraguans dying from the virus in Spain, US and Italy.  I read earlier that the government had estimated 32,000 will get the virus and about 3.200 will die from it in Nicaragua.  Part of the style of life here in Nicaragua has always been saying after this time, for instance, after Holy Week we will do this or that.  So now we are saying we will be canceled until after holy week, but it seems kind of unclear that things will be better by that time. So we just continue as best as we can.

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March 27th, 2020

Sister Rebecca Spires in Brazil

About covid19 in Brazil.  On the one hand we have some good state governments that are imposing strict restrictions on mobility at this time in an effort to ward off or at least diminish transmission.

That is good.

The federal government undermines all attempts at control. Their major worry is the economy, not human lives. Of course the economy is in a tail spin. There are other priorities now. Many people take the measures seriously after seeing the Italian tragedy. But others don't get it.

Of course we have a large population at below poverty level. Their problem is hunger. They can't stay at home, they go out and beg, scrounge... to eat. Many live on the street, no water, much less alcohol to sanitize and kill the virus. At least the governor of this state opened the soccer stadium as a shelter for street dwellers and sent a bus to round them up. There they get a "kit", a mat, cover, hygiene items from the state. Companies and good citizens are taking food and clothing and the state is providing a doctor and dentist to assist them. This is good.

When cases first started to appear the curve was going faster than in Europe, but has slowed down. We hope to keep it slow and low. However the health system is not prepared to care for the numbers anticipated. The federal government has practically gutted the public health system and the private system is unaffordable and unprepared.

So much involves politics and greed.  Even when people remember to pray, there is so much egocentrism. It's like the world revolves around me. God? Somewhere out there. And then there are the Pentecostals who say God is punishing us, the devil is on the loose, the end of the world is coming and so on... 

Of course that is not all. Many good people took food and clothing to the stadium, many pray at home so as not to infect others at church and pray with trust in God's goodness.

Just today I got news that US missionaries from what used to be called New Tribes are entering Indian territory in the far west of the Amazon, where 26 different peoples/ethnic groups live, more than half of whom have chosen not to interact with our society. As there are some barriers by river and land, they are using a helicopter. Now one Indian guide has been infected -- outside the territory. But he has returned and lives in a very simple, dwelling with 14 others of all ages. It is frightful to think of the consequences of this. That news is just today. We hope, we pray, we stay home and hold the world in our hearts.

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Sister Carol Wetli in Nigeria

April 22

Happy Earth Day!

Today all of us in the Postulate House joined all the SDNs around the world to celebrate Earth Day and remember our Sister Dorothy. Temperatures are currently in the 90s every day with high humidity (80%-100%), so the best part of our celebration was that we held it outdoors sitting in white plastic chairs on the green grass with no need for fans or electricity. Earth was so visibly connected with us.

Today marks 4 weeks that 13 postulants, 5 professed sisters, and 2 men (a driver and a farm manager), have been quarantined in the Postulate House in Fugar. There is a lot of grass but no lawn mower, a big farm, spacious grounds, 13 bedrooms, 5 guest rooms, 2 computer rooms, 4 storage rooms, classroom, library, community room, dining room, kitchen, and a large reception room plus outside buildings (a yam barn, goat house, firewood storage house, an outside kitchen, etc), all to keep clean. So there is no lack of things to do. Our goats are multiplying. Even before their first birthday the females can become pregnant by their father, grandfather, son, or male siblings.. Everyone is working hard. Next week classes begin again for the third term which ends around the 3rd week in July. Of course in the world all around us children have been out of school since March, while churches and entertainment places are closed. Yesterday it was announced people could leave their homes from 7 am to 6 pm. Today we were told there's no movement on the roads until May 3. Nigeria's borders are to open Friday, April 24. I guess that means to other countries, while our own borders between states are closed. Many times people aren't clear about what are the current restrictions, so life just goes on. Especially hard hit are public transporters--taxi drivers, motorcycles and kekes (3 wheeled half enclosed cart cars)-- as are the market vendors and people who purchase food one day at a time. What better life could one have than spending a month in quarantine with 19 other people, all healthy and lively and hard-working and jovial and compatible. I am indeed blessed.

I'm busy doing handovers and putting things in order to hopefully meet up with my revised flight on May 11-12. I'm delighted that the flight goes direct from Lagos to Atlanta and has very widely spaced the passengers in the economy class. God willing, I will soon arrive safe and sound.

Lots of love,

Carol

April 3

Greetings from Nigeria where things can change fast.

The very day of my last report to you on March 25, we received a letter from our Province Leadership Team instructing us to remain indoors, have no visitors, and tell our workers to stop coming to work. A few days later, after the announcement of the postponement of our General Chapter, we were informed that our Province Assembly the week after Easter would also be postponed.  I was supposed to travel a day’s journey last Sunday, March 29, back to my community after finishing my teaching in the Postulate.  Needless to say, I did not travel. Since March 25, all of our communities are staying inside our compounds. All movement from state to state is banned.  All stores are closed except pharmacies and food markets. 

One thing that didn’t change for me:  For 28 years my bedroom has also served as my office, so I am used to working from home.  I had finished my teaching, so have spent the past week sorting and packing my things, continuing my handovers of various responsibilities, especially the Development Office, which has literally thousands of files waiting to be trimmed, categorized and handed over.  I had originally thought I would have to do this piece after my return to the U.S. 

COVID-19 cases are now up to 190.  Abuja, Lagos and a state bordering Lagos are on serious lockdown.  The other cases are in about 8 locations throughout the country.  I don’t understand how cases can be counted because there are very few means of testing.  In addition, few hospitals even have ventilators or protective clothing for the medical staff.  Our village of Fugar is very large with thousands of people living very close together and only 2 or 3 small hospitals.  For most of our medical needs we must travel to a larger city about ½ hour drive away where there is one good hospital which can run some basic medical tests for malaria, typhoid and pregnancy scans.

We had been giving water from our borehole to people from the village twice a week.  However, for almost a year now, only about half of the solar panels that power it are working.  The others were destroyed by lightning, despite the fact that we have good lightning protection. The solar is currently not strong enough to pump water from the borehole into our underground tank, and the fragile electricity which we get now and then is not strong enough to keep the water pumps from breaking down.  So we have relied solely on our generator which now is also having problems.  We fill all our buckets once a week and pray that they won’t empty before the following week.  When there is enough water in our underground tank we can draw water by hand from a rubber bucket let down on a rope.

Yesterday one of our sisters went to a city about a half hour away to buy food and medicine.  She returned shocked that people were everywhere.  The local mosque was full of people, the motorcycle taxi drivers were everywhere, and the streets were filled with people, cars, and wheelbarrows for carrying purchased food to the main road for pickup.

News from the U.S. seems far worse.  Can someone please explain to me how gun sales stores can qualify as essential goods and services to join food stores and pharmacies?  Each day I read the grim statistics in hope that the numbers will start reducing so that I can come home on May 4. If, by mid-April there is no change, I can already guess that my flight will be canceled. 

Let us to continue to pray for one another since we’re all “in the same soup.”

 

March 25

I wrote yesterday my own limited view of what is happening in Nigeria regarding the Coronavirus. However, this morning, things have changed in Nigeria. 

Schools have been closed. 

Some high government officials have tested positive (Presidential chief of staff, a governor, a mayor, a senator, etc.).  Some of them (or their relatives) returned from Europe or elsewhere and are now positive.  On top of all that, a man who had tested positive in Lagos attended a social event where hundreds of people were gathered.  The virus is now in 6 states with a total of 46 cases.  My situation may change as well. I am stranded in the Postulate House because we don't want our driver to return to the Postulate community by public transport.  My plane ticket to the US is still good for May 4, but it doesn't look right now as if that will happen.  If we stay in quarantine here in the Postulate, we are 13 postulants, 3 professed sisters, a sister visiting until after Easter, and myself = 18.  So, you can see I won't be bored.  Our compound is large, quiet, and beautiful.  Pray for us as we learn how to socially distance ourselves from others as all of you have been trying to do for some time.

Following is what sent only the day before

I am currently in the Postulate House in a village in the middle belt of the country.  Sunday I will return by car to my community in Ilorin, a state capital, close to the western border with Togo and a bit farther north.  We are being told that the virus has still been contained in Lagos and Abuja, where both cities were infected by people from places like Europe and the U.S. arriving by plane, and that no one has yet died from it.

So far the only change I notice around here is that some people are becoming more aware by trying to avoid handshakes.  Other than that, life seems to be going on as normal.  Church services continue with daily Mass, adoration every day during Lent, and Stations of the Cross 2x/week.  Last Saturday at the Cathedraticum Mass people were packed in the pews, and yet the bishop told us just to bow to one another for the kiss of peace.  A university about an hour from us has dismissed its students last Friday in the middle of exams, while the teachers appear for work daily and are tested upon entering.  Nobody yet has been heard by any of us to have been infected.  It has been rumored (hopefully it is true) that the virus prefers a cooler environment.  We are currently in the 90s everyday with high humidity.  Our rainy season has begun in full force since March 1.  After not a drop of rain since early November, we expected the usual few rains during March, but we’ve already had a number of heavy rains

Many people do not even know the meaning of quarantine or, even less, self-quarantine.  How can quarantine be managed in a village with dense population and small houses all close together? There are so many diseases here with fever--lassa fever, malaria, typhoid, and meningitis.  Lassa fever is currently very high in our state, and we had our compound sprayed some time ago.  The sanitation people came the next day to collect all the dead rats they could find.  I guess that was for accountability.  People are used to working and moving around, even with fevers. 

I booked my flight to Cincinnati in early February.  Last week the flight from Paris to Cincinnati was canceled and switched to Atlanta and then on to Cincinnati which means a 10 hour wait in Paris airport, another wait in Atlanta after collecting all one’s luggage and checking it into the next plane to Cincinnati, finally arriving at the airport in Kentucky at midnight on May 4.  I’m not complaining about all that because, once I’m all packed up and ready to go, I just want to move and settle.  Life in the U.S. though does not sound very exciting--mostly staying inside one’s house.

Pray that Nigeria will be spared.  With more than half the population of the U.S, crowded geographically into a country about 1 ½ times the size of the state of Texas, with limited medical care, we are very vulnerable.  However, the Pentecostals call down Holy Ghost fire and assure us that “God will not allow any sickness to happen here.”

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March 27th, 2020

Sister Gerry Bolzan in Kenya

We are all well at the moment…thanks be to God, but, we seem to have reached a very difficult time with the pandemic raging around the globe. 

Here in Kenya we are at an earlier stage of infection with the first case just over one week ago…and it is now inching up each day.  The government has acted quickly to close schools and urge self-quarantine and safe distancing…we pray that these efforts will keep us safe.  Our school system runs on a January to November schedule, so we were nearing the end of the first term…we will be missing approximately three and one half weeks of classes before the scheduled break.  They are attempting to conduct classes via radio, and TV.  (Also via U tube and internet for those with access, often by mobile phone).  There is a very wide distance between those who may have access and others…who do not even have electricity!!  (Or at times, clean drinking water)So this crisis is highlighting many of the difficulties in a land with great poverty and disparity.

Because our health system is more fragile and would not be able medically to handle a huge number of people with full blown COVID 19, we pray that it does not reach that level.  At present, I believe there are 28 reported cases, but quite a few more people in quarantine. The good news is that the first case has recovered!! So, it is difficult to think of other intentions to be prayed for except deliverance of our people from this pandemic.

The crisis does highlight some of the challenges in government, not always clear about who makes some of the decisions.  There is concern about hard and fast rules on quarantine, as many people would not have food if they could not go out to sell their produce or other goods…many live from day to day on what they can scrape together. Another problem is sanitation, especially in the very crowded informal settlements where even access to water and toilets is very limited...So, we count on your prayers.

On another note, we had to cancel our Final Vow ceremony which was scheduled for April 4th.  The Sisters who had been preparing for this special day are very disappointed.  We know it WILL come, but we do not know WHEN church gatherings will again be permitted.

All of you, STAY WELL ... hope we can get through this together!! 

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March 30th, 2020

Sister Evelyn Fitzke

Along with so many all over the world, we here in Lima are “sheltering in place”: by decree of our president Martin Vizcarra, everyone is to stay at home, indoors, practicing “social isolation” – so hard even for us “high introverts,” how much more so for warm, lively, socially-oriented Latinos! We are allowed out only to buy basic groceries or go to the pharmacy, always with a face mask in place, and leaving a meter of space between yourself and the next person in line. Police and the military are patrolling the streets and the local market, to make sure all are complying; military helicopters pass overhead (the most unnerving part, for me!) to make sure no groups are congregating in the parks or on street corners.

How are we faring? We sisters are well.

Our two sisters, Iris and Juana Jaqueline, who teach in our Fe y Alegría school (where the academic year was SUPPOSED to have started March 15!) are home, busily preparing online lessons for classes on the Internet – a new experience for everyone – and mindful that not all of the children in our “barrio” have access to internet at home. Mariela, our Nicaraguan postulant, is enrolled in a super-intensive English program at ICPNA (the Peruvian-North American Cultural Institute), but of course classes have been suspended. Now Mariela and I work on her English from home! In our home, we sisters have a smallish cupboard we term our “pantry,” where we always have a couple of spare rolls of bathroom tissue, a few cans of tuna, some rice, pasta, etc. So we are used to “planning ahead,” and only have to go to the “mercado” once or twice a week. We take advantage of the “extra time” together to talk to one another (at a safe distance, of course!), play table games, watch videos together, catch up on reading or emails . . . We recognize that we are blessed, indeed.

For our neighbors, things are not quite the same. For most people, what they earn in a day is just enough to meet the expenses of that day, so buying in bulk is out of the question. Many are self-employed, in the “informal sector” – vendors in the local market, motortaxi drivers, workers in small restaurants – and for most, work has just disappeared, as people have stopped going out. They have had no income for the two weeks of mandatory “sheltering in place,” and this has just been extended for another two weeks. Many are desperate – how to put food on the table when all income has dried up? Add to this the extra anxiety and expenses when a family member becomes ill. The government is trying to help – the poorest segment of the population is getting a cash supplement, banks have agreed to freeze interest on outstanding loans, the utility companies are holding off on collecting fees for the months of the COVID-19 emergency. But the situation is very stressful and difficult for our average neighbor.

As sisters, we are conscious of certain cases of extreme hardship and are seeking ways to help. With people of faith all over the world, we pray that this time of emergency may soon come to an end!

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