Flattening the curve, and building a global community

Gabrielle Tomovcik is a Humanitarian Program Manager at CARE Canada. She has been working in humanitarian aid for five years and is currently supporting CARE's emergency responses in Africa and Asia.

For years, my day-to-day work has revolved around emergencies. As COVID-19 got closer to home, I thought my experience would prepare me and that it all wouldn't hit me quite as hard. As it turns out, none of us have been prepared for what we have felt and what we have seen in the last days and weeks around the world as we find our way through a pandemic.

I remind myself almost daily that my colleagues working in their home countries have long responded to and been affected by emergencies. As a Canadian aid worker, I have always followed emergencies around the world, but until now, it's never been in my own backyard. As I process this new reality alongside my part in the global pandemic response, I'm struggling as much as everyone else to feel my way through.

While every day I’m filled with gratitude for the country I happened to be born into, I also find myself overwhelmed with confusion and guilt about my own sense of anxiety while living in a nation with so many resources, a capable government, and peace. This is not the case in many places around the world, and I can't help but think of the world's most vulnerable communities. How will they fight back when the virus arrives at their doorstep? It's come to the point where it is no longer a question of if, but when.

As I watch our police and government begin to enforce safe behaviours, I am reminded of countries where there is little rule of law.

As I watch stable supply chains keep food on our shelves, and store hours accommodate shopping for our most vulnerable, I think of dusty rural markets, where nutritious food is scarce on the best day, if affordable at all.

As I sit alone in my apartment, social distancing and working from home, I think of all the camps I’ve visited. These are safe havens from violence or disaster but bursting at the seams; life there typically fills every available space. Showers, washing spaces, toilets—all shared by dozens, if not hundreds of neighbours. It’s hard to digest, but isolation, which feels so punishing at times, is in fact an immense privilege.

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As I watch in awe of our incredible doctors, nurses and emergency workers, I imagine communities where the nearest clinic—with little equipment and few staff—is hours away.

As I watch arguments unfold in supermarkets over paper products, I imagine the coming conflicts in communities who already have so little. Where life and death may really be at stake in the failure to get what they came for.

As I wash my hands more times than I can count, I am reminded of places where women and girls walk hours just to get a bit of water each day. Sometimes, that water isn’t even clean.

As I watch food banks, local charities and our government step up to support those in my home country struggling to pay bills or feed their families, I’ve never been more aware of inequality, or as jarred by my own privilege.

Perhaps for the first time, the entire planet is confronting the same crisis—but I am struck by how differently we are all equipped to meet it. The fire is blazing everywhere, but while some countries will have firefighters and hoses, others will be fighting with buckets and teaspoons.

It’s strange supporting our colleagues around the world from couches and kitchen tables. With the recognition that staying at home is also doing our part, no aid worker is used to the idea that they can’t get on a plane to go and help somewhere else. We’re no strangers to remote support, but nothing about this is business as usual.

This crisis has no blueprint, and nobody has the answers. Every day we understand more, and with that understanding the sense of urgency grows. When you start to take in the picture from around the world, it's can be hard not to feel paralyzed by its enormity.

I’m awestruck by healthcare workers everywhere—including those working in the aid sector—who are leading the way through this pandemic around the world. The rest of us in our many other roles are working to get them the right tools for their work, to flatten the curve through prevention and information, and in any way we can, lessen the fallout. It’s truly frightening to remember that every crisis that existed before this one, is also still there.

I wake up, make a cup of tea, open my laptop, and hope that anything I do that day will make a difference for my colleagues on the ground and for the vulnerable communities we serve. It never feels like enough, but all of us still keep showing up.

With planes grounded and borders closing, it’s easy to feel farther apart than ever, but this crisis should remind us of just the opposite: we’re a global community, and now more than ever, we all need each other.

I’m not sure of many things right now, but I do know this: the only way we’ll get through this, is together.

help CARE respond to COVID-19 so that we can support the most vulnerable people in countries around the world.