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Responding in Kind

May 01, 2020

Editor's note: We are so thankful that in the midst of so much change, our alumni and participants have been a constant source of encouragement with their hard work and community efforts. As part of our celebration of virtual volunteerism and Giving Tuesday Now, we've rounded up a few of the alumni from AC-administered programs who are working to combat COVID-19. 

Dr. Goloborodka, dressed in personal protective equipment at the ERDr. Valentyna Goloborodko is a Future Leaders Exchange alumna from Ukraine, who went on exchange in the early ‘90s. Today, she is a doctor working at the ER in a New York City hospital. Her work during the COVID-19 pandemic was featured in a video from The New Yorker. 

"There hasn’t been a time for our generation when being sick was so scary," she said. "Usually being sick means physical and emotional suffering, but never has it meant complete isolation from the world and from your loved ones as well as the possibility of not seeing them again after entering a hospital. It is also a time when people are losing their loved ones while being in the hospital themselves and fighting for their own lives.

"All this is makes for unprecedented emotional and physical suffering and I want to be there for all these people to do whatever I can to help them through it."

Irina Abasova wearing one of the protective masks her company createdWhen Irina Abasova, the founder of Creat3D Kazakhstan, started to hear about shortages of personal protective equipment, she shifted her company's focus to producing masks and face guards for medical specialists. The alumna of the US-Central Asia Education Foundation has also offered to provide free consultations to businesses in other countries interested in the production of such equipment. 

"My motivation to start production of such masks was my desire to help people fight the COVID-19 and also to save work places for my workers," she said. "Both reasons are a good motivation for our team. We work very hard these days."

Dara, smiling at the cameraIn the Philippines, Professional Fellows Program alumna Dara Ever Juan is leading efforts for the Manila branch of The Rice Movement. They are working to assist and feed families who have lost employment as a result of COVID-19. She explained that after seeing a post from a friend who started the project in another city, she was eager to join in and help Manila. 

"Every day, I see people in my community seeking help so they can provide food for their family. These are people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 crisis," Ms. Juan said. "I immediately messaged his team and asked if I can volunteer as lead for Manila. We started April 13, and today we already provided 409 sacks of rice to 1,541 displaced workers’ family members in the Philippines. Rice is a staple food for Filipinos. Because of our donors, we are able to sustain these families with rice for at least a month, so they can survive staying safe at home.

"While many of us are staying at home most or all of the time, there are still things we can do to share love and hope."

Sophie in MoroccoAfter Sophia Winkler's classes at McGill University in Montreal ended due to COVID-19, she started looking for a way to support the Montreal community. The YES Abroad alumna found a job nannying full-time for two children whose parents are both healthcare workers.

"I feel fortunate to have found employment supporting frontline workers during these uncertain times while also gaining some experience in education," she said. "For the past two months, I've spent every day playing games and planning educational activities with the kids, including one activity where we made a geography-themed board game on an old map. It was exciting to share my knowledge of YES Abroad countries like mine—Morocco—by making a trivia game we can keep playing.

"Another activity was making rainbows to put in the windows. [pictured in lead photo] Here in Quebec, the rainbows in people’s windows symbolize hope for a return to our regular lives after this challenging time. They are accompanied by a hopeful phrase I think we can all agree with: 'Ça va bien aller,' or 'Everything will be alright!'" 

Festim BejtullahuFestim Bejtullahu and his team won first place during a 72-hour hackathon to rapidly develop digital solutions for Kosovo to address COVID-19. The team’s winning project, Dhuro, is a crowdsourcing platform that connects people in need with assistance. Users can donate food, clothes, first aid supplies, and books through the platform. Mr. Bejtullahu is a fellow through the Kosovo American Education Fund, earning his MBA at the University of San Francisco.

"Our motivation comes from the spirt of our community," he said. "Me and the team have always been inspired by the tight-knit and loving community of Kosovo. We believe that Dhuro will offer a way to connect those who need help with those who can help—and create a strong, supporting, loving, and happy community for all."

Darlene Janice Nieves Cruz, smiling at the cameraCritical Language Scholarship program alumni ambassador Darlene Janice Nieves Cruz works for Mercy Corps in Puerto Rico. While her team typically focuses on hurricane and earthquake preparedness, they quickly pivoted to aid the community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their efforts include supporting community-based organizations, food banks, and organizations that support seniors. 

"This is precisely my greatest motivation: the communities and the people we work for," Ms. Cruz said. "Being born and raised in Puerto Rico, I clearly know the most urgent needs that our people face. Knowing that my actions specifically contribute to our well-being and resilience fills me with pride and satisfaction."