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No “pãodemia” for older people

Marilia Duque E S25 June 2020

“Pãodemia” is the expression used to describe the phenomenon of people baking bread (bread is “pão” in Portuguese), cakes and cookies during the quarantine that was imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. The expression, created by the Portuguese chef Filipa Gomes, went viral when she shared a video on her Instagram with a tutorial on how to make bread at home using just four ingredients. She named the recipe “Pãodemia”[1]. During these months of isolation, a cooking craze spread like a fever in Brazil and in other places in the world[2] as a way of avoiding leaving home, occupying one’s free time and alleviating stress. As a consequence, other than the huge rise in demand for flour in Brazil, Google registered an increase in searches for bread recipes in the country. At the end of March 2020, the number of search terms used to find bread recipes had quadrupled compared to any period in 2019[3].

Filipa Gomes’s “Pãodemia” tutorial on Instagram. Screengrab taken by the author.

The idea of turning every recipe into a pleasant activity also gained visibility on social media. People who before COVID-19 had no time to be at home or cook now share pictures of their homemade recipes, competing for distinction among peers. On my social media channels, I could see many friends my age who were chefs sharing their bread, cakes and other homemade dishes. I was also invited to a WhatsApp group called “Pandemic Kitchen”, where friends were challenged to share their creativity in cooking during the quarantine.

Directly from the oven to social media feeds. Screengrab of post shared on my Facebook timeline.

However, I observed that none of the older people I met during my 16-month ethnography in Sao Paulo were sharing any bread or cake photos. Instead, they kept sharing information they considered relevant to their peers together with all kinds of opportunities to learn new things or engage in new activities, all of which were now restricted to the online. What’s more, I also noticed they were creating many of these new opportunities.

One of the groups I studied during my research is organised around the purpose of developing new alternatives to work in old age, with the added challenge that these alternatives should combine pleasure and financial gains. To my surprise, they quickly migrated their face-to-face weekly meeting to Zoom, where they now have meetings and activities every day. Before coronavirus started, I guess like most of us, they didn’t know about Zoom. Their online activities were mainly concentrated on their Whatsapp group as well as the WhatsApp Broadcast list they use to keep the group up to date about the schedule of face-to-face activities. Although the group is focused on working and entrepreneurship, a recent survey conducted by one of the members revealed that 72% of them joined the group’s meetings to improve their sociability. This result confirmed something they already knew. Their biggest mission, as a group, is to make older people leave their homes, fighting isolation and offering a collective opportunity for them to be productive and useful. Most of the time, members make their skills available to the group and most of their initiatives address problems they face in everyday life. In other words, they are working for themselves, to improve their own experience of ageing.

When the face to face meetings were suspended, they had to move fast to avoid letting the group die. And so they did. With a professional background in collecting data through surveys, one of the members created a questionnaire using Google Docs with a portfolio of ideas for things they could do together, even at distance. The ideas people showed more interest in were transformed into their own dedicated WhatsApp groups and the respondents were automatically included according to their preferences. The most popular initiative existed even before COVID-19 – it was the “Demystifying Smartphones” workshop, created by Sergio Grinberg, aged 69. Grinberg uses his professional background working with computers to help older people to feel comfortable with their smartphones and especially with WhatsApp. However, with coronavirus, the workshop addressed what became older people’s first priority: learning how to use Zoom platform[4]. And they succeeded. As shown in their weekly schedule below, they now have activities on Zoom from Monday to Saturday.

Trabalho 60+ weekly agenda of activities on Zoom

Last Sunday, I invited the team responsible for organising these activities to a Zoom meeting, where I could get to know what they were metaphorically “cooking” better. I started by asking whether they had baked any bread, as I thought I could have missed something. They explained they had thought about an activity where they would all bake bread according to the same recipe and then donate all of it to a charity but people didn’t stick to the initiative. One of the explanations for this is that they are all focused on solving their own problems first, creating opportunities for older people to be connected and empowered. The second one is a kind of a been-there-done-that explanation. To put it in their words:

“For us, cooking became a pain in the ass. Now we are confined to being home again. But we don’t post what we are doing alone. We cook together. That is fun.”

Zoom meeting with the “Trabalho 60+” group members. Screengrab taken by the author.

Keeping doing things together – that is their spirit. In that vein, instead of posting what they consider domestic affairs, they created the Zoom event “Cooking with Friends”. Every Friday, they get online on Zoom to cook the same recipe. Each week, a different person is responsible for sharing the recipe with the ingredients and instructions, so they have time to organise themselves and get the ingredients together. During the meeting, the person sharing the recipe is also “the chef” who will guide the friends through making the recipe.

All set for the activity “Cooking with Friends”. Photo: @Eduardo Meyer

Outside the kitchen, the group is also engaged in other activities, such as organising a virtual library where they share the eBooks they have. They also have a “Janelas para o Mundo” (“Windows to the world” in Portuguese) initiative, during which they have discussions related to literature, following a dynamic similar to the one used in the “Cooking with Friends” initiative. A selected text is shared with the group and they get together once a week to have a guided discussion. People can also practice facial gym exercises on Tuesdays (they have now opened a second class, as there was huge demand for it) or join the Happy Hour meeting every Friday evening when they also celebrate the birthdays of the week. They have a choice of around 18 activities to join during the week. As there are plenty of options, people started advertising their own initiatives as they are competing for their friends’ attention. To help them, the workshop “Demystifying Smartphones” is also teaching people how to manage other applications such as Canva[5], a graphic design platform that can help them create posts for Facebook and Instagram, videos and presentations, as seen in the examples below.

Card shared on WhatsApp to promote the event “Windows to the World”. As seen on the left side on the top, the initiative even has a logo.

Card shared on WhatsApp to promote the event “Cooking with friends”.

With creativity and a pinch of professionalism, this group of older people are refusing to be confined at home. They were once confined at home, far before COVID-19 started, when they retired. Since then, they have fought hard to conquer new spaces and visibilities. Therefore, they can be confined to the online now but they are not particularly interested in bread. Instead, they are performing their miracles to multiply the opportunities they have to stay connected as a group, being productive while at the same time, sharing some of life’s pleasures together.

To get a taste of how the group “Trabalho 60+” is using Zoom platform to keep together during the quarantine, watch the video below and enjoy the experience of cooking with friends. It is mouthwatering, to say the least.

Video produced by “chef” Conrado when the taught other members of the group how to prepare the cauliflower pie.

 

[1] https://www.noticiasaominuto.com/fama/1453284/paodemia-a-receita-de-filipa-gomes-que-se-tornou-viral-no-instagram

[2] https://brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2020-04-09/todo-mundo-em-busca-de-receitas-de-pao-caseiro-para-amenizar-a-quarentena.html

[3] https://saude.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,na-quarentena-assar-pao-e-bolo-ganha-espaco-e-aumenta-procura-por-farinha,70003261439

[4] https://br.vida-estilo.yahoo.com/inspiracoes-terceira-idade-sergio-grinberg-091843876.html?soc_src=community&soc_trk=fb

[5] https://www.canva.com/

 

From hands clean to hands-on: Coronavirus and ideas to support older people in São Paulo

Marilia Duque E S3 April 2020

Isolated, not alone

In Brazil, 15.3% of people aged 60 years and over live alone. When I conducted my 16-month ethnography among older people in Sao Paulo, I came across many of them. Most are extremely active and engaged in social activities and in the WhatsApp groups I participated. They have many friends, enjoy their freedom and independence. However, there are also a few who are living in a kind of semi-quarantine. The reasons for this are many. Some are widows. Some chose not to have children, some had children, but the children moved abroad. Some self-isolated after retirement. Their social interactions are sometimes restricted to speaking to shop assistants and people at the market, the drugstore, and the bank. There are many nuances among people in those two groups, and I was worried about both when social distancing was imposed by the coronavirus outbreak. How could I help them? The answer came from my fieldsite, where I observed how people like Marta and Bete below, were using WhatsApp to create networks of care.

Marta, aged 54, told me she does volunteering work. Every morning she sends a “good morning” messages to three older ladies who she knows are leaving alone. The WhatsApp messages work as a daily check to ensure the three are doing alright, as well as being a demonstration of affection and bringing joy to them.

Bete, aged 66, experiences a similar routine, but with her daughter, who lives in Spain. Everyday the daughter waits for a message from her mother to arrive before 10 am, when the mother writes to confirm that she slept well and that she is fine. The same procedure is repeated at night. If Bete doesn’t answer the message, her daughter has some friends in Brazil that she can count on who can support her mother if necessary. In addition to this, Bete, who had an aneurysm two years ago, also receives occasional calls from her health insurance provider. During the call, she updates the doctors about the state of her health and receives advice. Despite living alone in São Paulo, far from her daughter and grandson, Bete feels safe and assisted.

I learned a few things from these simple, but successful models of care:

  • They take place on a platform people are already used to (in the Brazilians’ case, this means WhatsApp).
  • They are based on care providers who shift from a reactive to a proactive role (including family, friends, or institutions)
  • They create a daily routine of care
  • They show even simple text messages can make a difference.

Based on that, I created an awareness campaign which replicates those models and provides support to older people living alone during the coronavirus crisis. The campaign is called “Angels on WhatsApp” because “angel” was what some of my informants used to call me when I helped them solve a problem.

Prototyping Wings

The campaign was launched on the 14th of March on my social media channels, but my focus was my WhatsApp groups and people I knew working on the topics of ageing or health. The campaign consisted of an image and a text message with instructions on how to become an Angel for older people living alone during the quarantine.

There is a guardian angel on my WhatsApp. Adopt an older person who lives alone during the coronavirus crisis. All you have to do is to be available on WhatsApp. Acess: http://www.saudeeenvelhecimento.com.br

The message describing the campaign that was sent out to my contacts can be read below. Because the message was translated from Brazilian Portuguese, some of the content of the message will relate to Brazilian healthcare infrastructure.

AN ANGEL ON WHATSAPP, BECAUSE SOLIDARITY IS ALSO CONTAGIOUS 😇😇😇

Social distancing can be a great preventive measure against the Coronavirus, especially for the population over 70, which has the highest mortality rate. The feelings of loneliness, abandonment and helplessness that it can bring are an immediately visible downside. But that does not mean that older people have to go through this alone.

The idea of the initiative is simple: you can become a guardian angel on WhatsApp 😇 and help support older people who live alone. The idea can be applied anywhere in the world, but it is important to do as the virus would do, and start with the people you have contact with. So, forget your country, and forget your city. Think small: start with your WhatsApp contacts.

DO YOU KNOW OF AN OLDER PERSON WHO LIVES ALONE AND WHO IS ONE OF YOUR WHATSAPP CONTACTS? 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏 GREAT! NOW YOU CAN BE HIS OR HER GUARDIAN ANGEL:

👉 Text him/her in the morning and in the evening. Ask how he/she is, whether he/she slept well, whether he/she has eaten.
👉 Be available to chat.
👉 Be ready to guide him/her on how to seek medical advice. In Brazil, the Ministry of Health developed an app with a questionnaire for screening patients based on symptoms and a map of treatment centres using geolocation. Search for ‘CORONAVIRUS SUS’ in your app store.
👉 You can also keep him/her informed by sending news from reliable sources. The Ministry of Health has prepared a page on the Coronavirus that can be accessed here: https://www.saude.gov.br/saude-de-a-z/coronavirus. The CORONAVÍRUS SUS app also offers reliable news and tips.

👀 PLEASE NOTE: the volunteer cannot make a diagnosis or give any medical recommendations. The volunteer is a bridge for connect older people to reliable information and professional medical assistance.

WHY IS THIS REALLY IMPORTANT? 💪💪💪💪💪

  1. You can help support older people and make them feel less lonely during their period of self-isolation due to the Coronavirus.
    2. Two heads are better than one: you can both discuss the news about Coronavirus and double-check their reliability and trustworthiness before sending them on to friends.
    3. The SUS application is really good, but one of the biggest difficulties older people (mainly over 70) have is downloading and installing new applications. You can be a bridge between an older person and the information and guidance contained in the SUS application.

WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS INITIATIVE COME FROM? 👽
My name is Marília, and this idea is based on my PhD research. For 16 months, I observed the use of smartphones among older people in Sao Paulo. If there is an app that they universally use, it is WhatsApp, including using the app to build networks of care and solidarity. Want to know more? Access: http://saudeeenvelhecimento.com.br/anjo/ (in Portuguese)

The message above went viral, and people I knew started asking me for older people’s WhatsApp numbers. Some of them decided to focus on their neighbours, reproducing the notes that were spreading all over the country[1]. Then, the campaign reached the media, and I ended up getting 150 emails from people interested in becoming an angel. That was how my problems started.

“Hello, neighbours! If you are in a risk group, I am available
to help by going to the drug store or market. You can count on me.”

From Heaven to Hell

On the one hand, I had 150 people wanting to volunteer. On the other, I had hundreds of older people I worked with and some I knew would be alone during the quarantine. So what did I do? Nothing. Firstly, I couldn’t breach the terms of confidentiality of my research. Secondly, because older people are a common target for scammers, I could only intervene directly when three older people wrote to me asking for an angel, when I managed to get close friends of mine who I knew were trustworthy, to take care of them. And what about the rest? I couldn’t take the risk of having a swindler mistaken for an angel, so I started looking for existing platforms that could facilitate this match between people. I found two.

The first one is the startup “Mais Vivida”, which connects young people who get paid to help older people with their shopping or computer skills, for example. Mais Vivida created a free service for the coronavirus crisis which puts volunteers and older people in touch for free, but their service has a problem. To ask for help, older people need to fill in a six step form on Google Forms. I tried to use Google Forms to create a survey for my research participants before. It didn’t work well, especially for those older than 75.

Screenshot from Google Forms used by Mais Vivida.

I continued searching and I found “Os vizinhos do Bem” (The Good Neighbours), a platform developed for the quarantine which matches those who can offer help to those who need help. In this case, the first question the website asks is why you are seeking help and there, the user has the option to inform the service that he or she is 60 or older. The questionnaire is simpler, with only 11 fields, but it could be still a challenge to complete for older people.

For now, I keep giving guidance to volunteers to check their WhatsApp contacts, to ask friends, and to pay attention to their neighbours and I am also encouraging them to engage with one of those platforms. In the perfect scenario, older people wouldn’t have to leave WhatsApp or install any other app to inform others that they want help. After teaching three semesters on a WhatsApp course, it was clear the platform is where they become connected, where they feel comfortable and confident. So I am still waiting to find an alternative which considers this ‘smartness from below’, but this won’t stop angels being angels. I keep receiving feedback from people and it confirms what one woman aged 66 once told me: “In volunteering, you think you are giving something, but you are the one who is always winning.”

Below, you can read the testimonials of some of the Angels who have taken part in the initiatives, where they reflect on their positive experience.

“When I discovered that an action as simple as sending messages, calling or video chatting with older people could make such a difference, I was overjoyed. I adopted three lovely “aunts” with whom I started to speak every day. Today, one got emotional and thanked me saying that before that, she only had her dog to talk to. Then I was the one who got emotional”. – E. S. Forbes

“At first, I thought that she did not need help, as she was very attentive and has children living in the same city. As the conversations went on, I came to that old truth – we all need it. We always learn that we can help others and that would fulfilment and calm the soul. We also learn that there is always something new to be learnt. Taking care of an “older lady”, even if virtually, also helped me to manage the absence of my own parents who are not here anymore. In the scariest moments, like the ones we are living in now, I think about them and what they would say to me. So now, I listen to my older lady. All of this also gave me that really made me want to help more, to send messages to those uncles we never speak to and to the neighbours in the building”.  -S. Prevideli