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The Masks that Show Who We Are

This article was originally published in Agora, Avenues' intercampus student publication led by students in São Paulo and New York. This article was also featured in the prestigious World Teenage Reporting Project > COVID-19 Showcase.

By Manuela A. (SP ‘21), Manuela V. (SP ‘21) and Ana B. (SP ‘22)

Illustration by Sayuri I. (SP ‘21)

Six weeks ago, our lives changed out of the blue. On March 6th, a Friday night, we learned of the first COVID-19 case in our school. As a result of this diagnosis, the school campus closed for an undetermined amount of time. There were fewer than a hundred cases confirmed in São Paulo, but the situation grew worse as the days went by, and soon, we saw newscasts and newspapers publishing articles about hospitals suffering from high demand and lack of protective gowns and masks.

Many members of our community were upset by the situation, specially Rui Zanchetta (teacher of Coding, Programming Studio and Mastery), Ana Paula Giorgi (Science teacher), Sabrina Steyer (Dean of Student Life and

College Counselor), Bianca Guimarães (Avenues parent), Muriel Matalon (Avenues parent) and the student Eduardo F. ('21), who decided to use their free time at home in a productive way. They began designing and producing 3D and fabric protective face masks as well as visors for health professionals and low income communities. This grew into a community-wide project called Máscaras 3D.

The initiative started big. Rapidly, several other families of the school got involved by donating money to buy materials, offering themselves to manufacture the masks, or even buying 3D printers to accelerate the production. The movement Makers Contra Covid, founded by Kadu Braga, became a partner of the initiative on the manufacturing and distributing the masks to hospitals of the São Paulo State.

“It’s surreal to hear people saying we are saving lives” — Sabrina Steyer

Zanchetta says that the group started to print models and improve the format of the masks each time more. Counting on health professionals' responses, "The students who are working on the 3D designs are understanding in a practical way the importance of specific and useful feedback". All their work was recognized and appreciated: "health professionals from recognized hospitals such as São Luís praised the masks' design", says Bianca Guimarães, besides infectious disease doctors from Hospital das Clínicas.

Máscaras 3D have been receiving each day more orders, not only from hospitals in the capital but also from nursing homes, communities that need help, and health institutions in other cities in the state of São Paulo, such as the Hospital de Câncer de Barretos (Hospital do Amor) and Hospital de Campanha. Student Geórgia C. ('21), involved in the project's marketing campaign, adds that not only doctors but NGOs volunteers and residents of communities were helped and benefited: "The health of those who live in less fortunate economic situations is also extremely important but most times, neglected due to system failures".

With the help of the many volunteers, Máscaras 3D extended their production in order to attend the demand and is now divided into three different operations:

After the first month since the project was created, the volunteer network has distributed more than 80 thousand masks to different organizations, always protecting those who are involved and their families along the entire process, as Muriel Matalon (mom of an Avenues student and responsible for the distribution of the materials) assures. "I always asked the drivers and motoboys who came to my house to pick up materials: 'how many people live in your house?', and handed them masks from a reserved stock." This strategy created a "butterfly effect", says Muriel "since each time more, people are becoming aware of the importance to protect themselves and others in times like this."

Certainly the group has been going through some challenges along the way. But "in times and conditions where group work and cooperation seemed impossible, by some way, we are doing it", assures Mateus I. ('21). He says that, one of the many motivations they had to continue working on the project even faced with challenges, is the fact that "It is exciting seeing something so positive being created from a situation that hard. I know that putting masks together is not accelerating the process of developing a vaccine for example, but it surely does help those who are treating and taking care of the people who need health assistance. If there is anything that may help in this situation, I would readily do it." Geórgia added: "Besides that, the feedback that we received from the doctors and NGOs showed how we were acting for something with great importance, which kept us even more motivated."

“It is definitely something to be proud of. It seems as if we are a lot closer because we are fighting together against this pandemic” — Mateus I. ('21)

On April 22nd, less than a month after initiating the project, Máscaras 3D reached the target of collecting 100,000 reais. The initiative has been counting on generous donations from businessmen, but also on modest collaborations: "We received R$ 1 and R$5 of donations, and it is possible to see from where does the money come from, and, sometimes it comes from someone from the periphery that had received a mask that day", says Sabrina Steyer, who is also a part of the coordination team. To Veruska Boechat (Avenues mom), also involved in the process, "It is amazing to see that everyone doing what then can, has transformed into an avalanche of positive things and results, with no dependence on the public power, this come back at us in a way of happiness even greater than those who received felt."