The global pandemic is uniting communities around the world in some unique and astounding ways, including communities of expats living and retiring abroad.
We’ve been following the experiences of our editors and correspondents as they deal with the pandemic as part of their adopted communities. Their reports are providing us with a picture of how the pandemic is affecting their lives during their retirement and living adventures overseas. They are stories of hope, cooperation, and grace under pressure.
Here are some examples of community responses in nine countries around the world where expats are living, working, and retiring.
“At 8 p.m. every night, people step out onto their balconies or hang out their windows, and we applaud for the valiant healthcare workers who are working grueling hours and risking their own health for our benefit,” says Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent. “We are sincerely grateful for them and deeply saddened by the lives that have been lost.
“On the night before lockdown began, I went to the market to stock up on groceries (where there is plenty of food and toilet paper). I noticed freshly-posted, hand-written signs beside the door of every apartment building saying “we are three young women who live on this block. If you need any help with anything like grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, or walking your dog, we will help you. Here are our phone numbers.”
“In the past few days, a printed poster has appeared on the streets that says ‘Take care of your neighbor. If you know someone who needs it, help them.’ It lists the social services of the municipality including for seniors without a social network, people in vulnerable situations, those in economic need, and those in need of basic necessities along with the phone numbers to call.”
“One of the most meaningful parts of watching Belize and its response to the crisis, has been the way in which it has attacked this huge problem in a small-town way,” says Laura Diffendal, IL Belize Correspondent.
“There have been non-stop community groups started through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others. There is quick identification of anyone who is struggling, and a plan is put together to help. Small groups are constantly sharing resources, such as the business owners raising money for medical equipment, the community was quick to establish a pop-up hospital, and there are numerous privately run food bank groups.”
“In Medellín, once a week a woman who lives in the building behind me, serenades the neighborhood with two to three songs via a karaoke machine,” says Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent. “She has a lovely voice. The other night she asked everyone to join her and sing Happy Birthday for all those who are celebrating birthdays but cannot be with family and friends.
“Every night at 8 p.m. the people in cities all over Colombia go out on their balconies or front steps and clap, whistle, cheer, and flash their lights to show support for the healthcare workers and solidarity against the spread of the virus.”
“There have been so many instances of kindness and solidarity here, it’s been impossible to keep track of them all,” says Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor.
“I’ve seen gyms offering free online classes, Panamanian films offered for free online viewings, police entertaining neighborhoods on lockdown, independent legislators offering to donate a portion of their salaries to the “solidarity fund” (Panama Solidario) for those who’ll need extra support.
“My local insurance company announced very early on that it would cover “epidemic” expenses even though the fine print in my policy says otherwise. (Given what insurance companies do in the States…I worked in the industry there and can attest personally…I was incredibly surprised and impressed by this.)”
“The Coronavirus has ignited a shared sense of responsibility in the French people and brought out a passionate need to help their fellow citizens,” says Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent.
“Long characterized as a reserved, careful population, the French have responded to the pandemic with emotion, candor, and a steadfast resolve to overcome what French President Macron described as ‘the greatest health crisis of the last 100 years.’
“Community initiatives have included: solidarity campaigns to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable populations are looked after, free food delivery and pick-up services, volunteer mask-making and distributing, and greetings (cards, drawings, and messages of inspiration) sent to retirement homes.”
“I feel fortunate to have been living in Vietnam during this pandemic; it’s been one of the few safe havens in the world,” says Wendy justice, IL Vietnam Correspondent.
“Vietnam has done a brilliant job of containing the virus. Through a combination of testing, quarantining, public health education, and treatment, they’ve managed to eliminate all community transmission. We haven’t had a new case in the community for more than two weeks. As a result, the mandatory social distancing “lockdown” was suspended on April 23.
“We are now free to eat at restaurants, drink beers at a bia hoi, visit friends, go shopping, take domestic flights, go to the beach, and visit tourist attractions. Only a few businesses have not yet received the go-ahead to reopen, including most bars, cinemas, karaoke parlors, and spas. Social distancing is still strongly encouraged, and I’ll commonly have my temperature taken when entering an office building, bank, and some restaurants. Hand sanitizer is provided by businesses and placed next to most elevators, too. Wearing face masks when out in public is mandatory.
“Whenever a COVID-19 patient has recovered, the entire country knows about it. Discharged patients are given bouquets of flowers and much fanfare, though they still must remain under a 14-day quarantine and undergo follow-up testing before their lives return to normal.”
“Italians have a strong sense of community in general, and more so during this crisis,” says Valerie Schneider, says IL Italy Correspondent. “There has always been what they call campanilismo, or loyalty towards one’s town, and we’ve seen it manifest in many ways, both within the community and turning outward to other areas.
“On Palm Sunday in our town, some folks collected olive branches and wrapped them in pretty packages, which the mayor and councilors delivered door-to-door; just one small way of making people feel less isolated. They also distributed face masks to every household. Our town priest sends out WhatsApp messages of encouragement. People check in on the elderly and deliver groceries and medicine to them as needed. Something that has become common in the south is the spesa sospesa, a pay-it-forward shopping where folks purchase staple items then place them in a basket at the front of the store for those in need to take freely.
“Our town is very small, and those in difficulty aren’t left without help. The grocer will run a tab for them to pay later; I know of people who are paying down grocery tabs for others. Children made rainbow signs to hang on their balconies, then also made candles to light each evening, a flame in the darkness to give hope, silent prayers from the little ones. Everyone checks on each other through texts or calls, or yelling across from balconies. Many women have been sewing masks to send to other parts of Italy; thousands of nurses and doctors volunteered to go to the hardest-hit regions to help out (without pay). There are thousands of ways that Italians have fostered the notion of ‘distanti ma uniti,’ which means distant but united.”
“Where energy goes attention flows. To practice positive energy and to make myself feel better, once a day I practice paying it forward,” says Donna Stiteler, IL Cuenca Correspondent. “It may be a home-delivered meal to a sick friend, or the bags I make up with a day’s worth of food to give to the Ecuadorians selling masks and gloves on the street, or specialty chocolates for the workers at the tiendas down the street who are open seven days a week risking their own lives to get me food and vegetables. Greta, my shepherd, and I distribute the treats and when we see smiles on faces for that moment in time, all is well.”
9. Costa Rica
“In Costa Rica, tourism is one of the main engines of the country’s economy. When COVID-19 hit and the borders were closed on March 18, the economy came to a grinding halt,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent. “The beach communities and the ecotourism locations were the hardest hit. As hotels, museums, national parks, beaches, restaurants, etc. were closed. In the touristy beach community where I live, nearly 100% of the jobs are directly or indirectly touched by tourism.
“The community has come together with several fundraising efforts and ongoing food bank deliveries to help those families who have been impacted. It is incredible to see how many people are working together—expats, ticos (Costa Ricans), part-time tourists who have chosen to remain here, and entertainers. The Costa Ricans have a lovely spirit. They are overall calm and happy people, eternally embracing the ‘pura vida’ lifestyle. The government has done an excellent job flattening the curve and keeping case numbers relatively low. We know we will get through this together and come out stronger on the backside when we welcome tourists back again.”