Pandemic orphans, the forgotten victims of Covid-19 in Brazil

By Carlos Meneses Sánchez

Jundiaí, Brazil, May 25 (EFE).- “I lost my dad, my mom and my grandpa in the course of two weeks.” A retelling of the same words can be heard all across Brazil.

Thousands of children have been orphaned by Covid-19, victimized by an overlooked tragedy still unaddressed by public institutions.

At least 45,000 children and teenagers have lost both parents to the pandemic, according to preliminary estimates by Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research.

Julia, Valentina and Heloísa are now in the care of their grandparents in Jundiaí, a small city in the state of Sao Paulo. They are six, three, and one, respectively.

Their mother died aged 26 of Covid in March, despite having no pre-existing medical conditions. Their father abandoned them shortly after and journeyed to the state of Maranhao, 3,000 kilometers away. Since then, no messages, no calls. Nothing.

The grandparents then took charge of their three grandchildren with the scarce savings they could gather. From one day to the next, their home grew from a family of four to seven.

“I had to come up the next day with a smile on my face and tell my grandchildren that everything is ok, granny is here,” Adriana del Rio told Efe, with a lump in her throat.

The family had to move to a larger house. The children frequently suffer panic attacks. Their new carers, too.

One-year-old Heloísa smiles at a picture of her mother on a cellphone. The grandmother breaks down, heartbroken by the child’s oblivious grin.

“The pain will never go away. Only God will teach me how to live with it,” she says.

Del Rio found support to pull through thanks to a local project run by three Jundiaí mothers. The initiative has garnered hundreds of volunteers and has offered shelter to 25 minors so far.

“This last week was terrible, we received 19 children from five mothers who died,” said attorney Renata Pashoalini, co-founder of the project.

The initiative provides economic and psychological support to orphans with the help of donors and volunteers.

The idea came to fruition when they knew of Ryan Lucatto, 20, and his 10-year-old brother, who lost their father, mother and grandpa to the pandemic in the course of only two weeks.

Their father, a deliveryman, was the first to be hospitalized. Their mother, a housemaid, followed shortly after. Both were younger than 45. Neither of them could afford to stop showing up at work. Neither of the two survived.

Lucatto admits he didn’t take the virus seriously at first. He thought it was a “little flu,” a term popularized by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a fervent Covid negationist.

Fifteen months after the first infection, Congress started to discuss a proposal for a Covid orphans pension, such as the one implemented in Peru.

Glauce Galúcio, director of the Institute of Research for Sustainable Development in Amazonas, is an active voice in the discussions.

She launched a project of her own similar to the one in Jundiaí, which has aided 160 orphans since January.

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