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Giving smiles founder brings joy to those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis

Micaela Pantoja began to worry about the lives of the elderly living nearby in Peru and soon after founded Regalando sonrisas, or “Giving smiles” as part of her creativity, activity, service (CAS) project.

Giving smiles founder brings joy to those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis
Diploma Programme (DP) student Micaela creating cards for the elderly.

By Micaela Pantoja

I started this journey back in mid-June after I read a story in the newspaper about the many isolated elderly individuals living across the world. I began wondering about the situation of elderly people living in nursing homes here in Lima, Peru. I became very concerned about how they had not been able to see their families since the beginning of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, due to their increased risk of getting sick from the virus. Also, many of them still did not have access to technology and it had become complicated for them to remain in communication with their families.

I decided to contact different nursing homes to learn more about the situation. The response from the “Asilo de ancianos Mensajeros De La Paz”, a nursing home in La Molina (a district of Lima) motivated me to make a change. The individuals who lived there were having difficulty adjusting to a new life away from their families and suddenly finding that the smiles around them were hidden by a mask. This is how I embarked on this project and my aim was to provide a smile and encouragement with handwritten letters.

Determining my goal

In the beginning, it was not easy as I did not know where to start, did not receive the support of my classmates and did not know if I could do it alone. But with commitment, I achieved my goal during the July school vacation. I decided to get down to work and began writing the motivational letters—these contained phrases, jokes, stickers and drawings. Having them ready and checked with my monthly allowances, I paid for the letters to be sent. Once they were sent, I received an email from the coordinator of the nursing home thanking me for my humble act saying, “I hadn’t seen their faces so happy like that for months when they received the news of the letters”.

Giving smiles founder brings joy to those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis

They sent back many pictures that reflected their joy and thus, I have formed a friendship with them by being so kind. As a response, I sent a short video expressing my unconditional support. To date, I have made two deliveries which means I have composed 50 handwritten letters. I am looking forward to being able to expand my initiative to orphanages and nursing homes across the city. I am working on a business plan which includes creating an Instagram page and a website to reach more students interested in helping me.

Taking into account the attributes of the IB learner profile, I displayed inquiry through the process. Since day one, I have gained a lot of knowledge. I searched, collected data and formulated questions about the subject, finding creative and authentic ways to make the elderly happy during these unprecedented times. Moreover, I consider myself caring because I developed a deep sense of empathy, compassion and respect for them. During the writing process, I showed my admiration as well. They had been capable of staying calm and safe during the pandemic even though times have been quite hard. Finally, I was a reflective individual throughout the project. I had a continuous self-discussion about the circumstance’s elders and kids live nowadays in nursing homes and orphanages. The government has not paid a lot of attention to ensure their mental health is taken care of since the lockdown started. I began to understand the feeling of loneliness, further clarifying my goal.

What did you learn about yourself during this project?

This is a meaningful project for me. I learned that no matter how hard and difficult it is to do things alone, with self-management skills and perseverance I can achieve my ambitions. During that time, I was struggling with IB Diploma Programme (DP) deadlines. However, I put in a little effort and began working on this project. Also, I have realized that society needs my help. I am young, knowledgeable, skilled and I have experienced adversity and success in high school and that has allowed me to give others advice, encouragement and solidarity.

This project is also an opportunity to share different points of views. Furthermore, I discovered that I have a warm heart for others. I spent more than 10 hours trying to do it perfectly and it was really fun. I remember that day, telling myself, “finish and then go to sleep, but you need to finish”. Lastly, I want to encourage DP and future interested IB students to reach out to nursing homes or orphanages with innovative ideas. They need our help, the help of the young generation.

Giving smiles founder brings joy to those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis

Although my high school period is almost over, I will continue to promote the emotional support that should be provided to everyone, a humble act that can change a person’s day and give someone a smile.

Giving smiles founder brings joy to those most vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis

Micaela Pantoja is a second year Diploma Programme (DP) student at Peruvian North American Abraham Lincoln School and founder of the project ‘Giving Smiles’. She is 17 years old, loves reading books about philosophy and economics and watching documentaries and worldwide political debates. She has a kind heart and loves helping others. In the future, she plans on studying economics to understand the theories and real-world problems and make responsible decisions to help governments and human beings.

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