Global Lives Lost: From A Wise And Wonderful Grandma To A Soccer Pioneer

Jun 28, 2020
Originally published on June 29, 2020 12:24 pm

Our blog covers the globe. And as we in the U.S. mourn the citizens who died of novel coronavirus, we also wanted to pay tribute to lives lost around the world. Since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 people worldwide.

We asked writers, activists and global development champions to share a tribute to someone in their country who has passed away from the disease. They include famous people — a soccer trailblazer, an actor from an Amazonian tribe, political leaders — and regular folks — a beloved grandmother, a single mom who reached out to help others during this crisis, the 8-year-old child of Mexican immigrants and others.

The indigenous actor who made it to the Oscars

Antonio Bolívar at the Academy Awards in 2016.
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

On May 1, Antonio Bolívar, a tourist guide and part-time actor from the Amazon River port of Leticia, Colombia, died of COVID-19-related illness at the age of 75. He belonged to the small Ocaina indigenous tribe and was one of its few members who still spoke the Ocaina language.

In 2016, "Embrace of the Serpent" became the first Colombian film to be nominated for an Academy Award thanks, in large part, to his intense performance. In the film, Bolívar plays Karamakate, a shaman and the last survivor of an Amazonian tribe who frets that he is losing touch with his culture. He deals with rapacious rubber barons and religious fanatics as he guides an American botanist through the jungle to find a sacred healing plant.

In its glowing review of the film, The New York Times described Bolívar's character as "no innocent, noble savage but an angry, morally complex individual with a heart full of grief."

Bolívar was in his 70s when he had his on-screen breakthrough – but because of COVID-19, he had little time to enjoy his fame.

John Otis is a correspondent for NPR.

'Little heart of gold'

Eight-year-old Aurea Yolotzin Soto Morales was a playful, intelligent second grader. Her family and friends called her Yoshi. She died on June 1, just four days after she tested positive for COVID-19.

Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Yoshi was the youngest daughter of Salvador Soto and Araceli Morales Martinez, both immigrants from Mexico.

The name Yoshi comes from her full name, Aurea Yolotzin. Her mother chose the indigenous Nahuatl name. She translates it into Spanish as "corazoncito de oro," or "little heart of gold."

"She was a jokester," says her mother, Morales Martinez — the type of little girl who liked sneaking up behind her older sister, Jennifer, just to spook her and get a laugh. She loved drawing. She relished tomatoes. She hated wearing shoes and climbed on playground rocks barefoot to dance at the top. The family took trips to Disney World every spring, where Yoshi and Jennifer celebrated their birthdays together, even though they were almost 10 years apart. Yoshi loved these trips to visit her favorite princesses and feast on macarons.

Yoshi's death marks the first and only pediatric death in North Carolina so far. Latinos are disproportionately affected by the virus, making up 45% of positive cases in the state, according to North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. Yoshi's family urges their community to take the virus seriously.

"It is very difficult not to cry when remembering our favorite star," says Morales Martinez of her daughter. "She gave us light and smiles at every moment."

Victoria Bouloubasis is an award-winning immigration journalist, food writer and documentary filmmaker based in Durham, N.C.

'Always in our hearts, Rocio is present'

A poster of Rocio Choque in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Anita Pouchard Serra for NPR

On June 23, Rocio Choque died of complications due to COVID-19 in Buenos Aires. She was 38 and a single mother with three children. At the beginning of the pandemic, economic necessity brought her to a soup kitchen in a slum called Villa 1-11-14. At first, she went to feed her family. She decided to join the other essential workers who voluntarily provided services to their community with love and care.

"She was very participative, she always collaborated in everything," said Nelly Quispe, one of her colleagues at the soup kitchen.

Choque's death was not just the result of a pandemic. Basic public services, health care and legal job opportunities are not offered to undocumented immigrants like Choque, who came to Argentina from Bolivia to live in one of the city's most populated and impoverished neighborhoods. Choque hesitated and waited to go to the hospital after showing symptoms of COVID-19.

A couple days after Choque died, a volunteer at the soup kitchen took a photo of Choque to the nearby town square. They hung her picture on a tree, facing the neighborhood. On it they wrote: "Always in our hearts, Rocio is present."

Anita Pouchard Serra is a photojournalist based in Argentina. This story is part of project supported by the Pulitzer Center.

'Big brother'

Dr. Pamphil Silayo was a dedicated colleague and mentor working as the immunization specialist for UNICEF Tanzania, where I am a member of the staff. He was 60 years old when he passed away in Dar Es Salaam on April 25 after a short battle with COVID-19. Most of us junior employees called him our "big brother." He was known by everyone on our team as friendly, passionate and dedicated. He worked with UNICEF Tanzania for 13 years, ensuring that children receive the immunizations they need. And he worked with Tanzania's Ministry of Health to introduce new vaccines.

Toward the end of last year, we had a health retreat in a place called Bagamoyo. We sat close and shared a lot of discussions through the meeting. At the end of the retreat we spent time together and took a walk. He shared with me a lot of good advice on excelling career-wise — but also on life overall and especially work-life balance and the importance of family.

His kindness will forever remain in our memories.

Noor Ramadhani is an Aspen fellow and a staffer at UNICEF Tanzania.

'She left this world the way she wanted'

Andaleeb Rizvi, left, and her mother Durdana Rizvi.
Andaleeb Rizvi

Durdana Rizvi passed on to her next life on May 29, due to COVID-19, exactly a week after her 68th birthday in Karachi, Pakistan. Andaleeb Rizvi is her daughter. She said she was loving, always cheerful and a strong and fiercely independent mother.

A virology graduate from the Illinois Institute of Technology, she worked at the Rockford School of Medicine and Children's Memorial Hospital Chicago before coming to Pakistan and setting up her own lab. Her cousins lovingly called Rizvi "Doctor Durdana." Andaleeb's friends even referred to her "Amma," which means "mother" in Urdu.

Andaleeb says her mother was a great teacher who helped many students enroll for matriculation and higher studies. "Our family's anchor, she was the one who everyone called if their child was choking on something or when their parent was refusing to see a doctor," she adds. "Her beautiful smile and sense of humor will live with her four children forever."

The daughter shared a message that she wished she could tell her mom: "I miss you a lot, but I'm also content that you not only lived the way you wanted but even left this world the way you wanted: in the blink of an eye; walking, talking — and gone."

Benazir Samad is a lead multimedia journalist at Voice of America's Pakistan desk in Washington, D.C.

Remember for her altruism — and stir-fried noodles

Yanti Hadinoto passed away from COVID-19 on March 28, less than three weeks after Indonesia announced its first fatality from the virus. Cooking was her strongest talent, so the stay-at-home mother spent most of her life serving her community through food. Friends and family remember her not only for her stir fried noodles, grilled satay and Indonesian pastries but also her altruism and cheerful personality.

Hadinoto and her husband struggled after the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98, which devastated many businesses in Indonesia, but she never skimped on giving. She volunteered to cook meals for events at her church, often paying for resources out of pocket. Hadinoto's youngest son, Samuel Kurniadjaja, recalls helping her drop off meals to the church's ministers during Jakarta's major flood in 2002. "We had to spend quite a lot of money repairing the flooding damage to our car," says Kurniadjaja. "But even in difficult circumstances, she still wanted to give."

In recent years, Hadinoto sang with the church choir and still cooked for many people, including people at senior homes. Her family remembers her as a caring mother and a woman of unwavering faith. "She once told my sister, 'When someone you love passes, you're allowed to grieve, but don't forget the hope we have in God,'" says Kurniadjaja.

Stephanie Adeline is a former NPR intern and a journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Soccer trailblazer

Pape Diouf, left, of French soccer team Marseille, receives an award from the Union of European Football Associations in 2005.
Martial Trezzini / AP

While the March 31 passing of 68-year-old Madaba "Pape" Diouf marked Senegal's first known COVID-19 fatality, the Senegalese sports journalist and football manager's legacy will live on. In 2004, Diouf became the first Black manager of a major European soccer team, Olympique de Marseille in France.

Diouf was an inspiration not just to Senegalese athletes who were harboring dreams of soccer greatness but to the entire continent, says longtime friend and colleague Mamadou Koumé. Diouf showed others the route to success — in spite of the racism often blocking his path. "He was a pioneer," says Koumé. "People said, 'Pape succeeded, why not me?'"

Diouf made soccer history, but he was also a beloved friend who cherished chatting for hours with his long-time buddies when he was back in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where he had planned to spend much of his retirement.

"He was extremely free with his time for you, generous to his friends," says Koumé. "For me there is now a big emptiness — to have lost a man so sincere, interesting and convivial — someone who was honest. He would tell you what he was thinking and you could also say what you were thinking."

Ricci Shryock is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Dakar, Senegal.

'He made a difference'

Neurosurgeon Dr. Simon Hercules, 55, died of complications from COVID-19 on April 19 in the southern Indian city of Chennai. He ran the New Hope Medical Center, which specialized in brain and spine surgeries. His friends remember him as a man of few words. But his actions, they say, always spoke louder.

Two years ago, Hercules had started working on his dream project. "He would go to slums in Chennai and treat patients who needed his care," says Dr. Jason Alington, a general physician and a friend, who often accompanied him on these visits. "At first, he wanted to give all medicines at a subsidized cost of Rs 99 ($1.31), but when he saw the conditions there, he ended up providing the medications free of cost."

He held many free medical camps, especially in the aftermath of heavy floods that shook Chennai in 2015 and Cyclone Gaja in 2018, treating hundreds of sick and injured people every day through his charity, the Antony Foundation.

In early April, Hercules contracted COVID-19, presumably from one of his patients, says Dr. Pradeep Kumar, an orthopedic surgeon and colleague. India was grappling with its first COVID-19 cases at the time, and stigma around the disease was rife. Mobs blocked entry to the cemetery where the family intended to bury Hercules, because they were afraid of infection and pelted ambulance staff (who were wearing personal protective equipment in order to assist with the burial) with stones.

"I remember thinking, this is the kindest man I know. He did not deserve this. But then, the fear around the disease was intense," says Kumar, who considered Hercules a mentor. Two hours later, with police protection, Hercules was laid to rest.

"He made a difference, both as a skilled neurosurgeon and a compassionate human being," says Dr. Arun Mozhi Rajan, an orthopedic surgeon who for the past decade, worked with Hercules on spinal surgeries. "He always found a way to ease suffering and pain around him."

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist based in Madurai, India, who has written for The International New York Times, BBC Travel and Forbes India.

She taught me that 'us' is more important than 'me'

Junaid Nabi and his grandmother in Kashmir.
Javaid Iqbal

In an abrupt 3 a.m. call in late March, I was informed that my maternal grandmother — my Nanī, Biba Razzak — had passed away due to underlying medical conditions, exacerbated when COVID-19 took hold in Kashmir. Since the testing criteria and capacity were limited in March in India, it is not clear if COVID-19 infection was the precipitating factor. But the pandemic did delay her care and my family couldn't access the resources they needed.

She was more than 80 years old (I'm not sure of the exact year of her birth). She was raised in the old city of Srinagar in Kashmir and was one of the few girls who were educated at the time she was growing up. She was an amazing cook, and it was hard to resist her signature lamb curry. One of her characteristics was the ability to diffuse any tense situation: She could crack a joke no matter how serious everyone around her was, because she believed life was too short to be spent on anger.

There are innumerable lessons Nanī taught me — but probably the most important was about having a robust moral compass. She taught me to fight injustice with kindness and compassion — even when opponents may be exploiting their power and privilege. She taught me about leadership and the importance of sharing — how "us" is always more important than "me."

Junaid Nabi is a public health researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

A lifelong dream of becoming a doctor

Salman Tahir, a 22-year-old medical student, died from complications from COVID-19 on May 29 in Lahore, Pakistan. Before he died, I was working with a health-care support group to arrange plasma for him, but we were too late.

A fourth-year student at Rashid Latif Medical College, Tahir had a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. His father is a prominent cardiologist and his mother is a gynecologist. He understood, more than most, the sacrifices doctors make in a country with limited resources and a health care shortage.

Tahir was an enthusiastic member of his college's drama society and had ambitious plans to pursue further medical specialization in the U.S. Tahir's death shook the country. The image of a healthy, vibrant young man, with his whole life ahead of him, is not one soon to be forgotten.

Bilal Anwar is a journalist based in Pakistan.

'Mr. Environment'

Senator Heherson Alvarez (center) with Philippine President Fidel Ramos (left) in 1997.
Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

On April 22, the world marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – for the first time, without the usual street marches, press conferences, or tree planting events because of the pandemic. But even if there were celebrations, Senator Heherson Alvarez, who legislated its yearly commemoration in the Philippines, would not make it to take part. two days earlier, at age 80, he succumbed to complications from COVID-19.

Nicknamed "Mr. Environment," Alvarez was a tireless champion of environmental protection. Starting his political career opposing the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, Alvarez would eventually help restore democracy and pioneer environmental legislation in his country's congress. Major environmental laws for cleaner air, proper waste management, protection of national parks, and energy management all bear his name.

In the early 1990s, Alvarez was one of the first Filipinos to sound the alarm on climate change when such advocates were ridiculed as hippies and naysayers. Later, he would serve as inaugural head of the country's Climate Change Commission, leading numerous delegations to the annual U.N. climate negotiations.

Witnessing his courage from afar, in the halls of Congress or at the Paris negotiations, gave me tremendous inspiration and hope. We may have failed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 fast enough to save Alvarez's life, but flattening the curve of our carbon footprint to preserve the planet's limits will aid in accomplishing his unfinished mission – and act as a fitting tribute to his life of service.

A Filipino physician and climate advocate, Renzo Guinto is a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute and a recent doctoral graduate of Harvard University.

Abba Kyari (L) poses in a group photo with Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari (second from right) in 2016.
Philip Ojisua / AFP via Getty Images

The patriot

Abba Kyari passed away from complications of COVID-19 on April 17. He was 67. He was the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. Kyari was known for his loyalty to the president and love for his country. He had traveled to Munich, Germany, on March 7 to sign an energy supply agreement on behalf of Nigeria and came back with symptoms of the virus.

Kyari inspired me with his confidence when he spoke to Nigerians after being confirmed positive of the virus. He said "I will go on self-isolation, I will soon be back." He never came back.

The legacy he left behind is his love for his country, care for the less-privileged and his support for the victims of Boko Haram. I will always remember him for his patriotism.

Habiba Mohammed is director of the Center for Girls' Education in Zaria, Nigeria.

The political prisoner who was 'more than a statistic'

On June 24th, Zidane Shaltout, 64, passed away from COVID-19 in Mahala City, Egypt, where he was incarcerated by the Egyptian government.

A loving husband, father and son, Shaltout was detained by Egyptian security forces in December 2018. According to Committee for Justice, a Geneva-based human rights organization that has been following his case, it is unclear why he was arrested. No charges were ever filed against him.

I could see how a disease like COVID-19 could have taken Shaltout's life. I was a political prisoner in Egypt, held for protesting against the 2013 coup d'etat by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and released after 22 months in 2015. Prison conditions in the country are notoriously inhumane with a culture of systemic medical negligence. Up to 30 detainees are crammed in a single 200-square-foot cell. It would be near impossible to avoid contracting an infectious disease such as COVID-19. And if you do get sick and need serious medical attention, it is difficult to get help.

Shaltout was more than a statistic. He served his community with compassion, love and peace in his capacity as an educator at the Abdul Hamid Ali High School in the Gharbia governate of Egypt. According to Committee to Justice, he was promoted to principal and volunteered with Egypt's Ministry of Education to assist with after school programs.

His legacy of community engagement should not go unheard. May his memory shed light on the harsh reality that over 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt face — and we must not hesitate in ensuring they have a fair chance at life. Rest in peace, Zidane.

Mohamed Soltan is an Egyptian American human rights advocate and president of The Freedom Initiative. He was a political prisoner in Egypt from August 2013 to May 2015 for his role as a citizen journalist.

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