"I couldn’t stay sitting at home," concludes Agostina Guerra, a 27-yera-old dentist in charge of a team of volunteers from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) dedicated to hunting down coronavirus in boarding houses, retirement homes and among the police.
"As dentists we belong to the health system. We had to go out and help, do something. That was always my way of thinking," the petite youngster affirms emphatically, convinced that if ever there was a moment to volunteer, "this is it, without a doubt."
Her team of workers consists of 20 dentistry students and graduates from UBA, who meet every morning at a school to organise what they’re looking for, who will be examined and receive the addresses where they will be heading that day. Seated in a canteen, the atmosphere evokes the times they were classmates.
With three buses kitted out for nasal swab tests, they head out to where a case of Covid-19 has been registered and where many more are suspected, especially in the conventillo tenements inhabited by several families sharing kitchen and bathroom.
"We’re here to avoid this spreading and affecting more people. The idea is for the contagion to diminish with our participation," says Mauro Pachado, 30.
Argentina is already over the quarter million mark for Covid-19 infection and has recorded more than 5,000 dead, out of a population of 44 million.
At the door of a boarding house in the barrio of La Boca, the locals begin to line up and nervously climb into the bus one by one, the children with their mothers, to take their nasal swab tests.
"This is not a toothache, this is something new even for us and that uncertainty sparks fear. But luckily we have not met with a negative response from the patients, they look at this kindly," explains Pachado.
Facing up to the virus
When in March the first cases of Covid-19 made themselves present, UBA launched an appeal for volunteers and within a few days, 8,000 university students had registered.
Guerra’s team began helping out in hotels where people with mild symptoms were isolated and later participated in a vaccination campaign against flu and pneumonia.
Now they are dedicated to nasal swabs. With that they relieve the doctors, who can concentrate on attending the sick and "in a small way return to society everything we learned in the faculty," says Guerra.
Until now only one of them has come down with Covid-19 but was cured and returned as a volunteer in a programme delivering meals to street people.
"We have to go all wrapped up with face-masks and everything. If we’re scared, what about the rest?" reflects Guerra.
Nevertheless, she recognises that some teammates living with their families have chosen not to volunteer.
A tradition of social work
The University of Buenos Aires is Argentina’s main university and ranks among the best in Latin America. Public, free and with universal admission, it has a long track record of community work.
"There’s a tradition inculcating social work into many of us. When we were students, we were offering free dental care in underprivileged neighbourhoods and going inland," says Guerra.
With "Orgullo UBA” (“UBA Pride”) written on his smock, Pachado says that volunteer work fills him with satisfaction.
"It’s a form of returning our public education to the taxpayer, to society," he declares.
by Nina Negrón, AFP