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COVID-19 Series - Renee Kufner Heal

As we all deal with the Covid-19 crisis from wherever we are in the world, we thought we would share some perspectives from St Hilda's Old Girls who are doing their bit to help others in various ways. Today we hear from Renee Kufner Heal, who is the Deputy Head of Mission and Consul at the New Zealand Embassy in Spain. Renee attended St Hilda's from 1995-2001.

"I am currently based in Madrid, Spain, which sadly is one of the global hotspots for Covid-19. Just two months ago Spain had reported only a handful of cases of Covid-19; today, it has suffered nearly 180,000 cases which tragically have resulted in over 18,700 deaths. The current state of alarm here is necessarily very strict and people are only allowed to leave their houses for essential work, or to go to the supermarket or pharmacy. Outdoor exercise or leisure time is prohibited. We are fortunate that both my husband and I can work from home; and we are grateful that the searing summer temperatures have not yet arrived – I’m not ready to contemplate being stuck inside in 40+ degrees. Professionally, it has been a very busy time as my wonderful team – who displayed incredible adaptability as we quickly shifted to working as a “virtual Embassy” – have worked tirelessly to support New Zealanders in Spain, as well as our other countries of accreditation (Morocco, Malta, Andorra, and the Holy See). It has been a privilege to work with such dedicated professionals to assist so many Kiwis offshore. As in most places, it’s hard to tell when things will return to a “new normal”. Today is Day 41 on lockdown for me, and this will probably continue for at least another month. My main lockdown survival strategies have been: focusing on what we do have, not on what we don’t have (as helpful in managing garden-envy as it is in finding dinner inspiration in a diminishing lockdown pantry); practising gratitude (no matter what, every day I can be grateful for the support of my husband, a spacious apartment, and my health); and being deliberate and thoughtful about what news and social media I consume. The overriding feeling for me, though, is hope. Spaniards are displaying an incredible discipline and respect for the rules, and it is working: slowly but surely, our curve is flattening. There’s a strong sense of community: from a bag of fresh Valencian oranges left at our door by kind neighbours, through to the nightly applause from windows and balconies for our healthcare professionals, it feels like we are part of something bigger than our “bubble”. The grace, resilience, and generosity of this country and its people is awe-inspiring, and while I at times feel far from home, it’s an honour to be serving here."

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