Every day, Paula Vásquez tries to create for herself and her family a “new normal” during COVID-19. She wakes up at 5:30 AM, prepares breakfast, eats alone, and leaves two meals for her sons, sixteen-year-old Jesús and ten-year-old José Luis. Then, she walks through the narrow, dusty streets of the Monte Albán Colony, one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods of Oaxaca, Mexico, to get to work. It takes her half an hour on foot to get to Crecemos, the educational center where she works as a cook. There, she washes her hands, puts on a mask, and starts her new routine. In the next eight hours, she will prepare, alongside another cook, 300 meals to be distributed to the 150 families served by Crecemos.
Paula works for Crecemos, one of the implementing partner of AVSI distance support project in Mexico
“It is scary to work during a pandemic, especially because I know there are already a few positive cases of COVID-19 in the colony, but I feel at peace here at Crecemos. We take all the possible precautions, and I can go back home feeling safe.” says Paula.
The cook is one of Crecemos’ team members who agreed to keep working during the pandemic. The educational center had to interrupt its activities back in mid-March when the Mexican government closed schools nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, Crecemos is distributing nutritious and balanced meals to the families living in the impoverished neighborhood of Monte Albán, who are facing a wave of unemployment and acute poverty. In addition, Crecemos will provide hygiene kits to mitigate the spread of the virus within households, and to protect parents who are forced to work without protective equipment.
“I keep coming in and working because it is the only way we can accompany these families,” explains Paula. “We don’t know what is going to happen, we don’t know what to believe, what to do, but we know that through our work we are helping families to take care of their children, eat healthy food”
Paula arrived at Crecemos five years ago as a beneficiary. Her family was going through a challenging situation, and she needed a job, so she approached one of the teachers. Soon after, she was working 2 to 3 days a week, first cleaning Crecemos’ dining room and then became a cook.
“I had never worked in a kitchen. I did not know how to cook, so I felt afraid because I thought I was not going to make it. I needed the job, so I decided to be bold and accepted it,” remembers Paula, who will never forget the look on her children’s eyes when they saw her working in the dining room. “They were the cook’s sons. It was very nice to see them from the kitchen. I thought what a nice job I have! I could see them every day, even if only for a little while in the morning. I felt calm knowing that they had already eaten and were well.”
Today, Paula is the kitchen manager: she cooks, orders food and makes sure all families receive their meals in labeled containers. Between one task and another, she calls her sons who are her primary concern while she is at work.
“I come to work worried because I had to leave them at home. I leave food and clear instructions not to leave the house and when I go back home, I check if they have done all their homework, I clean the house and prepare dinner,” lists Paula, who sees an excellent reason to keep coming to Crecemos.
This work has a personal meaning; it has awakened a more human side in me and made me want a different life for myself and my children