Former Weyburn exchange student gives update from Brazil

Living amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

A former exchange student, Giovanna Palhares, is pursuing post-secondary education to be a dentist, and is trying to stay healthy in her home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a country that is struggling in their battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Giovanna spent a year in Weyburn in 2014-15 through the Rotary Club’s international student exchange program, and has been back home for five years now. She joined the club’s Zoom meeting on Thursday and provided the members with an update on how her life has been going.

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She is in her last year of university studying dentistry, and is unsure how she will be able to finish her degree program, as she is taking her classes online currently, but is unable to do her required practicum.

“The university can’t answer me yet what will happen. I am just having my final tests online, and in 10 days I will be on vacation and hopefully come back in August,” she said in an interview after the meeting, adding she may possibly need to do her practicum at the university.

She had been helping at a dentist’s clinic, but he is only taking urgent cases right now.

She told the Rotary members she and a cousin had an adventure in February, travelling to New York City, Miami and Orlando, and hopes for her next vacation she will be able to come back to visit Canada.

Meantime, Brazil is struggling with the pandemic, with the second highest number of infections in the world, with 330,000 cases of COVID-19. They had 20,000 new cases on COVID just on the day of the zoom meeting. “There are so many people with the virus here that we don’t have space in the hospital, so there are people dying in the line,” said Giovanna.

“Here in Brazil, the virus has been really bad for everybody,” she added in talking to the Rotary members, noting there have been 6,000 deaths from the virus just in her state.

She lives at home with her family, of which only her father, Jairo Pinto, is currently working. They can only go outside for such things as to buy groceries or to the pharmacy.

“I don’t leave home here any more, just my dad is working, as an accountant. He can work with the doors closed,” said Giovanna, noting his office normally had 30 people working in it, but currently only has five.

Her dad takes measures each day by wearing a mask outside, and as soon as he comes home, he goes to his room, takes his clothes off and showers, and puts his clothes in the laundry before he comes down to see his family.

“I don’t see my grandparents for two months, and they just live five minutes away,” said Giovanna.

Some people are not taking the pandemic very seriously, she noted, including the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been compared to U.S. President Donald Trump for his views, including calling the pandemic nothing more than a flu. These people have big parties together and go to the beach, treating the lockdown like a big holiday time, she said.

“We are trying to do our best to be healthy,” said Giovanna.

She noted the government offers a payment for those who have lost their job and need help, the equivalent of about $150 Cdn.

Meantime, she and many of her family all still have involvement with Rotary. Her sister Giulia went on a Rotary exchange, spending last year in France, and her dad is a member of the Rotary Club de Sao Paulo Vila Carrao. Giovanna is vice-president of the Rotaract Club de Sao Paulo Vila Carrao.

Her Rotaract club has a big project underway in providing food and supplies for 70 families.