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Notre Dame freshman advocates, translates for Italian healthcare workers

| Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Even though he’s thousands of miles away, Notre Dame freshman Paolo Mazzara is fighting against the coronavirus by advocating for health care workers in his home country of Italy. 

Courtesy of Paolo Mazzara

ND freshman Paolo Mazzara, left, volunteers to aid hometown hospital in Connecticut in addition to his voluntary translation work to assist Italian healthcare professionals.

Mazzara, a philosophy and global affairs major, volunteers as a translator between on-the-ground healthcare professionals, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Italian “Ministero della Salute,” or Ministry of Health.

 Mazzara’s family moved to the United States in 2017, from Monza, Italy. Monza, near Milan, is in the Lombardy region which was the center of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“I came to ND after a conversation with an alum and after having seen the Golden Dome (which reminded me of the Madonna on top of the Duomo di Milano) upon visiting the school, I felt at home, and I felt part of a large community of people dedicated to making the world a better place,” Mazzara said in an email.

Mazzara started his volunteer work about two months ago when he overheard his mother speaking to a family friend who is a nurse in Italy.

“The nurse was wondering if my mother could help her translate a document to send to the WHO to urge them to review the protocols concerning the equipment issued to healthcare professionals,” he said.

Immediately, Mazzara decided to take up this translation work himself. He started directly interviewing Italian healthcare workers, such as nurses, doctors and logistics coordinators at hospitals. Mazzara translates the interviews and documents they write from Italian to English and either returns the translation back to the healthcare professionals or sends it directly to the organization who will receive it. 

“I also consult ordinary people who do not necessarily work in government or healthcare to understand how they are feeling during this epidemic, what concerns them, what relieves them and how they expect the future to look like,” he said. “Most of the people I interview are either acquaintances or relatives. However, I do reach out to some new ones from time to time.”

Spending roughly five to six hours a week on this project, Mazzara said he felt it was his responsibility to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the new free time he gained after Notre Dame began online classes.

“The ND alum I spoke with always emphasized the weight that students place on volunteering and community service,” he said. “So I felt responsible both personally (it is my home country after all) and as a student ([to] represent the ND spirit or factor) to do something with this free time.” 

Mazzara said he also keeps up with the Italian news daily to prepare for new concerns to discuss with healthcare workers, in order to ensure their needs are heard. 

Most of the healthcare workers Mazzara spoke with mentioned the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those working to combat the virus.

“The documents serve to create awareness at the governmental level so that action may be taken,” Mazzara said. 

Mazzara said his hometown of Monza has not been as affected as some other parts of Italy, even though the Lombardy region has experienced the highest amount of cases and deaths in the country.

Mazzara said though his friends and relatives are living in quarantine, “none of them are scared, although they do feel anxious due to the hundreds of deaths that the country bears daily.” He said his grandparents will practice social distancing for an extended period of time to protect their health. 

Working around the six-hour time difference, Mazzara continues to keep up with school in addition to his volunteer work.

“I am using the information gained from my work in some of my assignments; I think it is ideal when school work and community service inform each other,” he said. 

With finals right around the corner, Mazzara is currently focusing on gathering information, so he can fully dedicate himself to the project when the school year is over.

“I am attending online seminars where expert economists and former heads of international governmental organizations weigh in on the future effects of the virus,” he said.  

He is also helping his younger brother volunteer with a non-profit organization to raise money for the local hospital in Stamford, Conn., where his family lives. 

On Monday, the number of those infected with COVID-19 in Italy fell for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak. The BBC reported that Italy’s lockdown will continue until at least May 3, though some businesses have begun to reopen.

However, the situation is far from resolved.

“Lombardy, the region I work most closely with, is experiencing a different treatment because the situation is still critical,” Mazzara said. “Doctors die in dozens each week and people are taking advantage of the opportunities charities offer more than ever before.”

Mazzara plans on doubling his time and effort towards the project as soon as the academic term is completed.

“My motivation is devoting time towards something worthwhile,” he explained. “This is an unprecedented time, and it calls each individual to make unprecedented decisions as to how we can help.” 

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