Aid In The Time Of COVID: Young Latino, Caribbean Expats Help Their Native Countries
Col5Vid – a Spanish pun that stands for Colombia Sin COVID, or Colombia Without COVID-19 – is one of Colombia’s most dynamic new charity groups. But Col5Vid's founder admits the idea wasn’t born at a board room table – but on a bedroom sofa.
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“I have never had so much idle time,” says Colombian-born, South Florida-raised expat Andres Arellano, a financial analyst at a food tech company in New York. A few months ago Arellano had knee surgery and chose to convalesce at his parents’ home in Bogotá, Colombia. And he got there just in time for Colombia’s COVID-19 lockdown. He’d be there for a while.
“Instead of using that idle time to watch Netflix,” says Arellano, who is 25, “I wanted to use it in a more productive way.”
That more productive outlet struck Arellano as he watched news reports of Colombians unable to work under the lockdown and feed their families. Something else struck him at the same time.
“I’ve also cared about helping out the country that took in my family,” he says.
Arellano’s family fled communist Cuba in the 1960s and settled in Colombia. Arellano grew up between Colombia and South Florida – and, mentored by charities like Colombia Cuida a Colombia (Colombia Cares for Colombia), he’s begun helping out Colombia with unusual speed.
With the help of a Colombian corporate matching partner, Grupo Argos, Colombia Sin COVID has already raised $65,000; it's helped create a network of Colombian charities and has helped distribute grocery and toiletry packages to last a month for thousands of needy families – even in Colombia’s remote, southernmost Amazonas state.
“There was a need in Colombia to connect donors with many different charitable organizations and locate vulnerable communities,” says Arellano. “And we would have never imagined sending four tons of food to the Amazonas with the help of the military – in Hercules airplanes! Honestly, I cried when I saw that picture.”
Arellano is actually part of a growing picture: Young U.S. Latinos, especially from South Florida, giving back to their families’ countries of origin.
Some were among the South Florida high school students to receive prestigious Silver Knight Awards last month, spearheaded by the Miami Herald. One of them created a charity that sends school supplies to poor students in her native Guatemala. Veteran charity organizers here say this collective impulse is something new.
“Latin Americans do not have that instilled in their culture,” says Angela Maria “Nai” Tafur, a Colombian expat who lives in Key Biscayne and directs the nonprofit Give to Colombia.
Tafur points out Latin America records some of the world’s lowest levels of charitable giving. And that may be one reason charitable giving back to the region hasn’t been a priority for U.S. Latinos until, perhaps, today.
“This is a competely new, U.S.-educated generation with completely new values,” Tafur says. “The philanthropic aspect of a human being, things like community service, is something that is integral to education here. And so it’s exciting to see them also apply that back to their roots.”
Timing has been a factor as well. Colombian-born marketing specialist Maria Hoyos – who like her friend Arellanos works in New York and is now one of Colombia Sin COVID’s directors – says the recent end of Colombia’s long civil war, a conflict sparked by gross economic inequality, has opened the door to charitable groups like theirs.
“We’re the generation that saw the peace treaty being signed,” says Hoyos, who is 23 and credits her parents, the first in their families to join Colombia’s middle class, with showing her the importance of helping the poor.
“I’ve always felt like it is my generation’s opportunity to make the peace treaty come to life and make it actionable.”
Hoyos mentions one other key generational asset: “Technology is our greatest friend.”
Colombia Sin COVID has Colombian-American student representatives at several U.S. universities – and they’re leveraging new mobile payment apps like Venmo for thousands of donations.
“What surprised a lot of the people that are not Colombian or Latino is that for them to just send $5, $25, you could feed a family in Colombia for a month,” says Colombian-born Fabio Ramirez, who is 22 and just graduated with an economics major from the University of Miami, where he’s the university's Colombia Sin COVID rep.
Ramirez, like Arellano and Hoyos, feels what’s especially important about the charity is its added focus on recruiting young volunteers inside Colombia – to help them build organizational and other employable skills to put to use once the COVID lockdown ends.
“This model, it could be replicated very easily,” says Ramirez. “Friends I know in Ecuador, they’ve started to do the same thing. Other Latin Americans, they’re like, ‘This is an amazing idea – try to grow this into a more international kind of thing.'”
Young Haitians here feel that enthusiasm too. Helena Augustin won a Silver Knight award for her work at Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs with her group, the Haitian Heritage Club. She was 8 when her family left Haiti after its cataclysmic 2010 earthquake.
"I do believe my generation of young Haitian-Americans has been able to get out of its comfort zone to educate the public better on what Haiti is about," says Augustin, who is headed to Philadelphia's Temple University in the fall.
Growing up in the U.S., Augustin has gathered as much of her own learning about the culture and history of Haiti as she can to convey to non-Haitians, especially its standing as the world's first black republic to win independence from its enslavers. Augustin and her group of students promote that pride about her native country – and debunk the stereotypes.
“You can see a shift,” says Augustin, “because more of us have learned to stand up to those people who bring a negative light to the Haitian culture.”
And like a lot of similar historical shifts going on around them, her generation is determined to make this one last.
You can learn more about Colombia Sin COVID at www.col5vid.org and on Instagram at @col5vid.
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