As you have likely heard on the news, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has now been detected in approximately 60 locations internationally. Although the World Health Organization has reported only three cases of COVID-19 in South America (two in Brazil and one in Ecuador) and the region is relatively low risk in regards to the health of visitors, Kingswood Oxford and Team Tobati have decided not to move forward with the service trip to Paraguay scheduled for March 8-18 this year. Since the spread of the illness and the impact on travel is dynamic and unpredictable, we have no way of knowing how travel to and from Paraguay could be disrupted. Any changes in the status of the illness in South America or elsewhere could mean that flights are canceled and/or travelers quarantined.
This was a difficult decision to make as our students benefit greatly from the Team Tobati experience, but the health and safety and security of our students are paramount. We have consulted with area schools regarding their travel arrangements for school-sanctioned trips over the Spring Break, and most schools are canceling their trips. Travel recommendations for educational institutions issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) likewise strongly encourage universities to consider postponing or canceling their foreign exchange programs and have those students who are already overseas return to the United States.
Kingswood Oxford and Team Tobati have worked together for over 20 years bringing KO students to Paraguay to work in the Macchi School, build classrooms, fund school lunch programs, provide medical care to students, and participate in other service activities. Team Tobati, started by KO teacher Ron Garcia, operates as a separate non-profit organization from Kingswood Oxford and much of the fundraising and cost of this trip goes to supporting the Macchi School in Tobati and other charitable programs in Tobati. Unfortunately, refunds for this portion of the expense are not refundable, but we will look into whether a refund is possible from Copa Airlines. Additionally, Team Tobati will offer a discount to any student who wants to attend the trip next year.
At 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, Ron and I gathered the students to share this disappointing news with them. Needless to say, we have a group of great kids who are feeling pretty down right now. What amazed me is when we asked if anyone had any questions, the only two questions that were asked were about how we could deliver the donations that had been collected for the Macchi School. It is heartwarming to see these students embody “caring beyond self.”
I recognize that for some of you this news may come as a relief and allays your concerns about your children traveling internationally during this time of heightened concern. For others, you may have been hopeful that the trip could still move forward. This was not an easy decision to make given the long-standing relationship that KO has with Team Tobati and the inevitable disappointment for both our own students and those in Tobati who were looking forward to hosting them. As painful as it is, we do believe it is the right decision given the rate at which this situation is evolving and the uncertainties that lie ahead. Thank you, as always, for your partnership, your patience, and your understanding as we work together to minimize any risk to the health and safety of our students. Ron will share with you more information as it becomes available.
Head of School
Team Tobati Coordinator