The sultry heat of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer will soon be rolling into Rio de Janeiro. In a normal year, the air would whisper into Dr. Wille Baracho’s ear: Carnival is coming.
In a normal year, Baracho’s organization—the Unidos de Padre Miguel samba school—would be a hive of preparation for the coming Carnival, readying floats and costumes for more than 1,500 paraders for the event, which was set for February in 2021.
But for the first time in more than a century, Carnival has been canceled.
There was fear that one of the world’s biggest parties would become the superspreader event to top them all.
“Carnival is important for the economy, for happiness, for our regional culture,” Baracho told the Associated Press, “but more important than that is health and life.”
Still, Unidos de Padre Miguel didn’t shut down. Instead, led by Baracho, a 49-year-old doctor who watched COVID-19 wreak havoc in a hospital ward, the school marshaled its considerable energy to fight the pandemic in its neighborhood, Vila Vintem, one of Rio’s most populous slums. In April school volunteers began sewing medical gowns and masks for public hospitals, distributing food kits to the needy, and offering coronavirus screenings.
“Carnival is a different kind of happiness, it’s playful and pleasurable. This is a mission,” Baracho, Padre Miguel’s vice president, said. “We’re talking about saving lives and our own lives.”