Welcome to New Voices, a new section devoted to columns written by members of African, Spanish-speaking, tribal, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Arabic-speaking communities. If you are interested in contributing to New Voices, please write to [email protected].

By Nsiona Niguizani

The world changed in December 2019 when the COVID-19 pandemic spread exponentially in every part of America and around the world. It’s not just a health crisis, but a terrible economic crisis. At no other time in history has a modern, industrialized economy essentially shut down in a matter of weeks.

How we respond to the pandemic will impact our future, both here and abroad. When we thought that we were finally controlling the situation, the virus decided to play us “un vilain tour,” coming up with new variants.

While the world is working to understand how these variants affect the virus’s behavior, including their impact on the effectiveness of vaccines, if any, we are already seeing the impact in the community, particularly in the unvaccinated community.

New surge of cases, effects of fear
People are still undecided when it comes to vaccines because they are scared or suspicious of the vaccines. Social media is the biggest influencer and misleading tool in the community. Many immigrants are being doubly misled by apparent scientifically supported information – which is actually misinformation – with more from back home coming from people who don’t have access to vaccines for themselves.

Also, some immigrants come from countries with authoritarian regimes, and when your own government has made you suffer, you lose trust in any governing institution. Trust is lost in the system, the regime, the government, and most other institutions. Faith in a predictable future is destroyed.

This ought not be a moment of fear, but of asking:

What is required of me?

If someone has been governed all their life by politicians who have always put themselves and their interests in place of the interests of the people, every move on a politician’s part is believed to be tied to money. Then the very fact that government is the primary institution promoting the COVID-19 vaccines makes them suspect. Questions pile up: How much profit is there in this pandemic? Does COVID-19 really exist? Are the vaccines really safe? What is the truth that politicians are not telling us?
People curl up at this panic time, think only of themselves and their families, refuse to reach out and take risks for others, and refuse to let in what they don’t trust.

Upsurge of basic needs
In the early days of COVID-19, the Angolan Community of Maine began our FEED program to help community members meet their basic needs, essentially food, because they were unable to go shopping since children were home and couldn’t be left alone. We assisted around 200 families before beginning to see our numbers going down when vaccines became available, schools resumed, and people went back to work. But we had a hard time closing down the FEED program entirely because there have always been 100+ families in need of the program in both Cumberland and Androscoggin counties. Since the surge of the delta variant, the course of the program is changing once again. We are seeing a growing number of families asking to be reconsidered for the FEED program, and have just extended it to York County. Last week, we knocked on 185 doors, supporting the residents with food and diapers, and educating them on the COVID-19 delta variant and the need for vaccination.

This is a time when we have to think more deeply about our role in a frightened and hurting world. It is a time for clear thinking and sacrifice. In many instances, a time to risk lives to care for each other. This ought not be a moment of fear, but of asking: What is required of me?

Nsiona Nguizani is the president of the Angolan Community of Maine. He arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and is now a permanent resident. In Angola, he built a successful career as a project manager for organizations such as UNICEF, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Union. Before moving to the U.S. he was the national representative of Comité d’Aide Medicale and traveled between offices in Paris and Luanda. When he arrived in the U.S., he was obliged to start all over again, and earned degrees in Accounting and Economics. He is currently employed as cultural broker for the City of Brunswick.