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Living in Santander, I can tell you that back in December, people could not have imagined that what we used to joke about would soon put Bucaramanga and Colombia, along with part of our lives on hold. Everyone thought that the COVID-19 was just a virus affecting China and the far-away lands: it would never reach our beautiful country. However, we were all wrong.
In matters of population, Bucaramanga ranks in 11th place, among other Colombian cities. You do not find as many tourists as you would in cities like Cartagena, Bogotá or Medellín. As a result, we are already somehow used to more slow-paced and, not empty, but less crowded streets.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Colombia on March 6th. By the middle of the month, the confirmed cases ascended to 50, and that was when the president decided to suspend all classes in private and public schools and universities. One week later, the number of cases got tripled, and then the president decreed a national quarantine status. With a few exceptions, everyone had to remain at home for the next two weeks. The quarantine got later on extended and keeps extending since...
At that time, in the department of Santander, where Bucaramanga is located, there were only five confirmed cases: up to the date, there are 33 confirmed cases, 22 of whom have recovered. About a third of the 6.000 cases of COVID-19 in the country are in Bogotá, Colombia's capital.
Here in Bucaramanga, "the beautiful city" of Colombia, the rhythm of life might have changed. But the heart and soul of the city remain the same. The city still looks gorgeous, even in the lockdown. Bucaramanga is known as "the city of the parks" because of its many urban parks, such as Parque San Pío and Parque de las Palmas in the neighborhood of Cabecera and Parque García Rovira. Those are all places where many people used to get together to chill, drink coffee, hang out before going clubbing: those are the places that we, the locals, miss so much spending time at, and look forward to them opening again.
Restaurants, supermarkets, and small grocery shops never closed, as they have been offering delivery services all this time. People are still allowed to go out to walk their pets around the block, and also to go to the bank or buy food. People can only go to the bank or grocery shopping only once a week, depending on the last two digits of their ID number.
As of April 27th in Bucaramanga and other cities in Colombia, it is allowed to go out to exercise between 5:00 am and 8:00 am, on a ratio of a kilometer around one's home, only for walking, jogging, running and cycling. Also, some commercial activities, such as construction works, shoemaking factories, and beauty saloons amongst others, were allowed to operate again, of course, with the sanitary rules applied and the government's special permissions.
Things are not always easy in Bucaramanga for everyone: not just now but on a regular basis. The city is going through a sanitary emergency that forced everyone to change their daily routines and also their perspective on life. But along with that, the measures that had to be taken to prevent the contagion had a great impact on the national and local economy.
A good amount of people in the city survive from day to day activities, such as selling food/products on the streets, cleaning houses, and some other jobs that cannot be done right now. The national and local governments have facilitated programs to help people with low resources to have access to a bonus so that they can get food and the essentials. However, this help still does not reach the whole population in need. Many organizations and people are also helping, donating, and bringing food to those in need. This is not an issue just raised because of the COVID-19, but it did get a bit worse because of the current sanitary emergency we are living in.
People and the government are concerned about their health, but everyone is also extremely worried about the economy.
A phrase that is commonly said lately amongst people in Bucaramanga is: "I either go to work and put myself at risk of getting the COVID-19, or I stay home and die from starvation." Unfortunately, this is the sad part of the story, so lots of people and organizations are joining together to bring food & essentials to those who need it the most.
If you feel like helping the ones in need, below you might find information on associations that are open to donations, whether those are money or simply food and essential sanitary products.
This is a self-sustaining social foundation. They are currently offering 300 meals daily to people in need, including homeless and immigrants. You can donate food or money, but honestly, any help is more than appreciated. You can find the bank account for donations on their webpage below:
'Alive' is a local nonprofit organization with social programs directed to vulnerable communities in extreme poverty, clinics, and hospitals, as well as the Bucaramanga women's prison. They are currently focusing on putting together donations to provide the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the city with groceries and essentials. Find the 'Donate' button on the webpage or contact them for more information.
At the moment, the best we can do is stay safe at home. I know it might be easier said than done, but we can do it: let us try and make the best out of each day, even under these uncertain circumstances. Hopefully, our Bucaramanga, Colombia's beautiful city, will manage to face the COVID-19 efficiently and rise back to its glory soon.
And remember, the sun will rise again, and we will go back to normality!
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