The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has many of us feeling uncertain about the future. What began as a global health crisis has only worsened the inequalities that exist for so many around the world.
Many have seen livelihoods and employment either severely limited or completely lost. Families are worried about meeting their most pressing needs, especially for food. In November 2020, the United Nations World Food Programme estimated that an additional 137 million people could face acute food insecurity because of the pandemic. Additionally, it is expected that the economic losses felt by so many due to COVID-19 in 2020 will continue through 2021. As a member of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, PWS&D is responding to hunger needs as much as we are able.
PWS&D responded through the ACT Alliance with rapid response projects in 14 countries. Projects helped affected people access food, sanitation and hygiene, protective equipment and psycho-social support, with a focus on gender justice and the protection of highly vulnerable populations. PWS&D is also providing support to longer-term ACT Alliance COVID-19 projects.
Adjustments were made to programs in every country where PWS&D works, repurposing funds for planned activities which are not currently possible. In 2021, we hope to resume more normal activities to continue supporting vulnerable communities.
While PWS&D initially supported efforts geared toward urgent action and life-saving projects through the ACT Alliance, focus has now shifted to longer-term relief projects in vulnerable communities in Bangladesh, Somalia, South Sudan and Palestine. Read more about the response.
PWS&D contributed an initial $25,000 to the ACT Alliance COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund. This fund provided support to 14 projects implemented by national ACT Alliance members.
Through the projects, ACT members supported national health services, worked with faith leaders in providing accurate and timely information to communities, and provided sorely needed support to the most vulnerable people in communities. Much of ACT’s work through this appeal included a focus on gender justice, the important role of local faith actors and churches, and the protection of highly vulnerable populations.
Malawi has seen a recent surge in COVID-19 cases after a period where very few new cases reported. The president declared a state of emergency in mid-January, temporarily closing schools, prohibiting gatherings of over 50 people and enforcing a nighttime curfew. PWS&D partners have largely cancelled community meetings of over 20 people, but project activities continue. Partners have increased community awareness and messaging on COVID- 19 prevention and management. The number of those attending trainings has been reduced and physical distancing is being enforced. Some of the additional measures being practiced include holding meetings in large outdoor spaces, providing buckets and soap for handwashing and ensuring facilitators have face masks.
In Ghana, which has some of the highest COVID-19 numbers in west Africa, PWS&D’s partner is encouraging preventative actions,
including social distancing wherever possible and good sanitation and hygiene practices, especially handwashing. The Community Based Rehabilitation Program in Garu, working with persons with disabilities, is increasing community awareness on COVID-19 prevention and management amidst an increase in cases in the country.
The Gambaga camp, where PWS&D supports protection and advocacy activities for women accused of witchcraft, has been closed to outside visitors. This decision has limited the livelihood activities the women can engage in, so PWS&D project funds have been redirected to provide food and soap to the women, as well as the children who live with them.
In Afghanistan, PWS&D’s partner, Community World Service Asia (CWSA), through our girls’ education project, is hosting awareness sessions where community members learn preventive measures to keep their families safe from COVID-19.
Schools in Afghanistan closed in the middle of March but reopened in August/September. CWSA is working to ensure that school closures will not further exacerbate the gender gap in education and lead to increased sexual exploitation and early and forced marriages.
With schools open once again, CWSA is equipping them with improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to both build awareness
and provide safe learning environments. They are also conducting teacher training on safety measures and class sizes are reduced.
Families who have lost livelihood opportunities and are finding it difficult to make ends meet due to COVID-19 are being supported by a food assistance project through PWS&D. The project is providing 1,100 of the most vulnerable households—480 of which are women-headed—with five monthly cash transfers. These cash distributions allow families to purchase much-needed food and essential items from local markets.
When COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in India in the spring of 2020, millions of migrant labourers returned to their homes, many of them to Bihar State. No job prospects and minimal support were available to them. To address the need, the PWS&D-supported Duncan Hospital launched a program to address the mental health impacts of the pandemic on young people and adolescents and providing:
- Vocational training to young girls.
- Training for adolescents on the social determinants of mental health (dowry, low value of girl children, early age at marriage, illiteracy, gender-based violence and substance abuse).
- Awareness-raising on preventing trafficking for school dropouts, unschooled children and child labourers.
- Support for identifying livelihood opportunities.
All necessary precautions (masking, handwashing and social distancing) are being taken to keep both staff and participants safe. Thankfully, the hospital’s work has not been significantly impacted by COVID-19, despite the rise in severe cases elsewhere in India.
PWS&D’s partner, International Nepal Fellowship (INF), recently reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country is rising.
While also supplying personal protective equipment, soap and food packages to those in need, INF is continuing their leprosy and tuberculosis treatment programs. In addition, the Shining Hospital, which PWS&D supports through INF, has made their ambulance available to the government to transport COVID-positive patients as necessary.
Despite the lack of an official lockdown in Nicaragua, people have restricted their movements and reduced participation in public activities, including schools and markets, to reduce infection. PWS&D partners provided families with food kits, hygiene and sanitation items, including hand soap and towels, disinfectant wipes, bleach, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Families are also receiving psychosocial support and pastoral care through pastoral committees and youth leaders.
Social media and radio messages are being used to keep in touch with community members and spread messages to help communities safe from the pandemic.
In Haiti, mobile clinics that treat malnourished children have now moved their operations to door-to-door support. In this way, community health workers are still able to provide therapeutic nutritional support the children who need it. COVID-19 prevention messages are also being spread within communities by these volunteers.
In Guatemala, PWS&D partners have been unable to continue their regular community work due to a government-imposed lockdown. They have been working remotely to help prevent the spread of the virus. Partners have been providing masks, disinfection gel and materials on how to prevent COVID-19, including broadcasting public service announcements regarding safety and prevention measures.
For the children at PWS&D-supported Francisco Coll School, the 2021 school year is looking different. Students are attending school for in-person classes Monday through Wednesday. On Thursdays and Fridays, they study from home with the assistance of study guides.
*A video on our COVID-19 response can be found here.
If you would like to support our ongoing work or COVID-19 response, you can do so by clicking below or by calling us at 1-800-619-7301 or 416-441-1111 x291. Please include “COVID Response” in the designation field.
In collaboration with other members of Coopération Canada, PWS&D signed on to an open letter to the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation as part of Canada’s COVID-19 response.