By Olivia Acosta

Mariela Bareiro is 43 years old, and she has a degree in nursing, but she stopped practicing two years ago due to a family tragedy from which she is still recovering. “When the Paraguayan Red Cross launched an appeal for volunteers to provide information about the pandemic to the population, I didn’t think about it, I needed to do something, to feel useful… I thought I could do it, so I did it”.

And that’s how Mariela’s adventure began on June 8th at the National Call Center. This service, which receives more than a thousand calls a day, consists of a free line set up to guide and attend to citizens’ questions and concerns regarding COVID-19, implemented by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare of Paraguay.

Mariela dedicates 18 hours a week to this job in the morning, along with 18 volunteers from the Paraguayan Red Cross. Her mission is to provide information on prevention and isolation measures and to schedule appointments for coronavirus testing. “Most people call us to report symptoms of COVID-19, we check them and schedule appointments so they can be tested as soon as possible and confirm if they have the virus.

But many times the calls they receive require another type of intervention: “Many people call us because they are very sad, they have lost their loved ones because of the pandemic and they need to vent.  We receive training in emotional support, to be able to help them in those hard moments. According to Mariela, many people who live alone feel a lot of anxiety when they present symptom of coronavirus and call to know what to do. “That is when we have to do a good listening, reassure them and finally give precise instructions for them to follow. He remembers a 54-year-old man who had lost his wife and two children: “He had symptoms, but he said he didn’t care about having the virus, because he was alone and had no one left… quite often there are some difficult calls like this one. Hopefully all this will help us to be more empathetic, more supportive and more humane”.

On some occasions, they also receive calls from people who need urgent help: “I remember a dramatic case of a 43-year-old woman who fell down at home and hit her head. Her two daughters, who asked for help from the neighbors, called us because no one wanted to help… both had tested positive for COVID-19 a few days earlier. We had to refer the case to the hospital”, she recalls.

Mariela started as a volunteer 8 years ago at the Red Cross branch in Ñemby, one of the cities in the Central Department of Paraguay, in the youth Area. She has 4 children who are also volunteers for the organization, the youngest is 13 years old, she tells us. “What I do fills me up and makes me passionate, I feel useful and I give the best of myself,” she concludes with a smile.

The Paraguayan Red Cross is implementing health, water and sanitation activities to respond to the pandemic. 120 mobile washing stations have been installed in strategic locations and more than 5,000 family hygiene kits have been distributed. The Paraguayan Red Cross is also monitoring health status of vulnerable populations at risk of beeing infected by the virus and works in shelters to support the population returning to the country and having to carry out quarantine. In addition, The Paraguayan Red Cross supports several hospitals in the country in the transfer of COVID-19 patients.