How shifting the coronavirus narrative can help protect lives

This is how a simple campaign is helping Argentinians regain a sense of control in a period of extreme uncertainty.

On March 7th, the Ministry of Health in Argentina saw its first COVID-19-related death. Over a week later, President Alberto Fernandez announced a nationwide lockdown. As with other citizens around the world, Argentinians felt a wave of collective anxiety over the uncertainty of the coming months.

So while news about the coronavirus was making headlines, a group of leaders of influential social impact organizations in Argentina hopped on a video call one warm day in March to exchange ideas. The overarching question of the call was simply, “What can our organizations do to help?” And the result: a concrete and straightforward campaign that would prompt a nationwide response to flattening the curve — one that communicated a sense of security and the power of individual behavioral change in reducing the risk for others.

#YoUsoBarbijo (loosely translated from Argentinian Spanish to “I wear a mask”) is a joint venture of a tight-knit group of NGOs that shared a common passion for social impact. Argentina collaborated with Civic House, Wingu, DonateOnline, Fonselp, and Kubadili to launch a website that calls on every Argentinian to use a facemask and teaches them how to make one of their own:

The campaign challenged the public to make masks for themselves using simple materials they can find at home — a clean piece of fabric, an old T-shirt, or even coffee filters (unused, of course).

The site greets you in big, bold letters with the words, “Make your own face mask, take care of yourself, take care of others, and help spread the word,” followed by a step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

Supplementing this challenge is a call-to-action to sign a petition on The petition, started by Adriana Clarisa, a 68-year-old resident of Buenos Aires, asks the government to mandate wearing face masks in public places to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The Mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, has already responded to the petition showing his support; wearing face masks is now mandatory in the city. As of writing, the petition has now declared victory.

“It is a citizen initiative that demonstrates the enormous interest of the people in taking measures regarding the use of a facemask,” shares Gastón Wright, Director of for Argentina.

While the solidarity that the organizations involved and the citizens of Argentina demonstrated is inspiring, the narrative that the initiative weaved made all the difference. It conveniently shifted the conversation from that of fear over a looming global pandemic to one of hope and security — that we still have significant control over the situation. It’s a rare feeling that can help people cope with the crisis and influence how larger institutions might respond to similar crises in the future.

Lastly, with the help of decision-makers and seeing them as allies, the initiative has demonstrated how a nation can cope with uncertain times by shaping their values to foster personal and social responsibility.

By making your own face masks, you take care of yourself while taking care of others. Spread the word.

For more inspiring stories on citizen-led initiatives on the platform, take a look at our growing petition map here.