UNICEF worker, Diana Valcarcel, gives an insight into solidarity during Spain's coronavirus lockdown.

Time passes so strangely during a lockdown. Looking back, I had to check my calendar to see when it all happened.

On 10 March, UNICEF Spain’s Executive Director sent an announcement to all staff laying out an Action and Contingency Plan facing COVID-19 and its new measures to protect staff. No more big meetings. All trips cancelled. Stronger hygiene measures in the office. Cancel all upcoming events.

Added to that, it was announced that parents could start working from home, so they could take care of their children. The Regional Government in Madrid had announced the previous day that all schools and universities were to close, and that all workers with a medical risk profile should work from home. I fit that profile, so on Wednesday 11 March, I started my confinement.

Everything is going fast, too fast.

The streets of countries around the world have become eerily quiet. In Italy, the Piazza Del Duomo is a space normally crowded with thousands of visitors. © UNICEF/UNI312454/Spighi / The Florentine
"Normally when he sees me, he touches
my cheeks with his tiny hads and I melt
That same Wednesday, you just didn’t know what might happen next, so I went to visit my nephew, León, in the afternoon. León is seven-months-old and since he was born, I must admit I’ve been besotted with this little creature.

That day, I sang him his favourite songs. I made my usual funny noises and faces, and I gave him a new banana-shaped teether, as his teeth were coming in. But I didn’t touch him. I didn’t kiss or hug him. I was too scared of the mere possibility of infecting him. It was difficult.

Normally when he sees me, he touches my cheeks with his tiny hands and I melt. I normally end up kissing him back so much he starts complaining. How I wished my visit on 11 March could have been like that.
León and his parents watching the daily puppet show put on by their neighbours during the COVID-19 lockdown to entertain the seven-month-old baby. Spain is full of gestures of solidarity and empathy like this one. © UNICEF Spain/2020/Valcárcel

On the 12th, we received a second announcement and all staff started working from home. On the night of the 14th, our Prime Minister announced a State of Alert for the whole of Spain.

Everything is going fast, too fast.

During the first days of the lockdown, you move between states of scepticism and feeling you are part of a fiction movie. You believe you’ll wake up one day and tell everyone about the strange dream you had about being stuck in a global pandemic.

But everything is real.

I have worked for UNICEF for the past 10 years, and I believe that all of us, as staff of this big organization, are familiar with emergencies, disasters and crises. Some of us have lived in the epicentre of them. For others, we are further away, but we are very much involved.

We’re emotionally connected and work against the clock to support children in whatever way we can. We have all learned from children and families what resilience means. Working at UNICEF might change how we’re all dealing with the current moment.

Every day, we’re close to the immense suffering of thousands of children living in Syria, South Sudan, DRC, Yemen – just to mention a few. Places that are hell for children.

This empathy, this knowledge, our daily struggle, makes us face, in my opinion, this pandemic in a different way. We know about suffering and we work to alleviate it.
Across the globe, UNICEF is engaging in critical work to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In South Sudan, UNICEF-supported community mobilisers are raising awareness on the disease in a camp for internally displaced people. © UNICEF/UNI317920/Chol

But for a European like me, emergencies have hit countries within a six-hour flight from home. Now it’s our turn, and we need to stand up and face this moment. For me, this means, as a citizen, being responsible and strictly following all the measures that our government is asking of us to stop the spread of the virus.

Secondly, as staff of a humanitarian and development organization, this means working even harder for the most vulnerable. Those who are near, and those who are far away. Today, the most vulnerable are my neighbours.

We’re very close and many of their relatives have been infected or have died from COVID-19. All my colleagues have relatives and loved ones that are severely ill.

When you see it so up close, you just can’t stop thinking about those in impoverished countries with few or no medical services.
UNICEF is procuring life-saving supplies to help stop and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The shipment includes more than three metric tons of personal protective supplies and contains two types of high-filtered respiratory surgical masks, plus surgical gowns, and surgical goggles. © UNICEF/UNI314220/Sayyari

Since I started working from home, I’ve followed a daily routine. I have read a lot about the impact on mental health that a quarantine can have. I have prepared myself as best I can – trying to maintain a good physical and mental balance.

Once I finish work and my nieces are done with their home schooling, I have ‘imposed’ a daily hour of exercise for us all. We have a lot of fun and it makes us feel much better. 

Another routine is video calling my nephew León and his parents in the afternoon. Every time I switch on my camera and call his name, he smiles with his toothless mouth and puts his hand out to the screen, as if wanting to touch my face as he usually does.

I still sing him his favourite songs. He gets all excited and his legs flail with delight.
Video calling has been a great way for families and friends to stay in touch during self-isolation. © UNICEF/UNI316263/Bajornas
"We human beings are extraordinary.
These days, I am witnessing beautiful
gestures of solidarity and compassion
León in his father’s arms watching from their window the puppet show that his neighbours put on for him each afternoon. © UNICEF Spain/2020/Valcárcel

This article was originally published in Planeta Futuro/El País.