How is COVID-19 affecting the countries we work in?
Though most of us would say our lives have been considerably impacted in some way, we know that global catastrophes such as COVID-19 hit the poor in developing countries hardest. Many of the world’s poor do not have access to running water and soap, the first line of defence against COVID-19. 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities.*
The perceived threat to food supply and reduced access to both trade and markets is seeing food prices skyrocket in many poor countries. At the same time, under-resourced health services are ill-equipped to meet even a moderate increase in demand, and the number of immune-compromised people in our partner countries (whether through HIV, TB, under-nutrition or another condition) disproportionately escalates the risk.
As the number of worldwide cases continues to grow, many of our partner countries remain in varying states of lockdown. While this is an effective measure to counter the spread of the virus, lockdown has severe adverse secondary impacts on the lives of the most vulnerable. The rural farmer, the day labourer, the street vendor, and so many other breadwinners from low-income families, now have little or no means of providing for their daily needs. Social isolation and severe economic pressure are devastating many families, with our partners reporting escalating domestic violence and increasing numbers of at-risk women and children seeking assistance.
Anglican Overseas Aid was born out of a vision to respond to human tragedy. However, this is the first time in our 30-year history that all our partner countries have been impacted by the same catastrophe at the same time.
The Solomon Islands has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, however a State of Emergency has been declared and the national borders are closed. Similarly, the Government of Vanuatu has declared a State of Emergency, with all non-essential travel suspended. A small number of cases are present in Gaza and, according to the World Health Organisation, Palestine is at very high risk.
In Africa, the situation is similar. Kenya has confirmed cases and the government has a wide range of measures in place to curb the spread, including a dusk to dawn curfew, a ban on street hawking, and closure of many markets. Confirmed cases are present in Mozambique, including within our partnership area of the Diocese of Nampula. The government there has shut down education institutions from pre-school to universities and restricted public gatherings to less than 50 people. South Africa is emerging from a nation-wide lock down. There is grave concern there, especially given the large number of highly vulnerable (including immune-compromised) people.
Despite this turmoil, fear and uncertainly, our partners have an unwavering faith in a constant and unchanging God. From the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, to Mozambique and Kenya, many national governments are also recognising the broad reach and influence of the church and are engaging church leaders to partner in promoting health messages, build resilience and address community violence. This crisis has a long road ahead and yet, along with our team of committed supporters, Anglican Overseas Aid will be walking firmly with our partners to the finish line.
How we are combatting COVID-19 in our programs?
AOA is responding by adapting our programs to ensure that the communities we work with have the support they need.
Our local Anglican Church partners have a grassroots connection with their communities, which means that they are in the best position to prevent the spread of coronavirus through promoting good hygiene practices and distributing accurate health information.
We are also responding to the secondary impacts of the lockdowns through distribution of essential supplies to the most vulnerable, helping families maintain livelihoods, and improving safety for women and children through support and connecting them to lifesaving services.
Here is how we are working with each of our partners in responding to COVID-19:
Our partner, the Anglican Church of Kenya, Mount Kenya West Diocese (ACK), is working in multiple ways to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, improving the lives of those most impacted by lockdowns, and supporting households with essential supplies.
ACK is educating the community on hygiene, prevention measures and COVID-19 through training local volunteer community leaders. These leaders create awareness of how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while also identifying vulnerable households who are in need of emergency care and food supplies.
The community leaders are also trained to assist families in identifying opportunities to generate income from home, and to deal sensitively with cases of women at risk of violence.
Our partner in Mozambique, the Missionary Diocese of Nampula, has been working towards the goal of improving health knowledge in communities for a long time now through the Equipas de Vida (or ‘Life Teams’) initiative. The Life Teams are Anglican church-based community volunteers who are trained to improve the quality of life through health and hygiene messaging.
The Life Teams have been trained to deliver the life-saving health and hygiene COVID-19 prevention messaging door-to-door within the 98 vulnerable communities that we reach.
Our partner, the Department of Social Responsibility, Diocese of Grahamstown, has redirected all their project activities and attention to addressing the challenge of COVID-19 within their project communities.
The Permaculture Network has been assisting people to be more food self-sufficient, growing their own food and learning to store their own vegetables to feed their families during lockdown (while still obeying lockdown measures).
The Safe Persons Network has been using new and remote ways (like WhatsApp) to contact people during lockdown to ensure that people are receiving vital health information and are enacting community protection plans.
Our partner in the Solomon Islands, the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM), is working to ensure that people have access to vital health and hygiene information and knowledge of social distancing.
These messages have also included information about services and protection, disability and gender-based violence, ensuring that the most vulnerable in the communities have additional support where needed.
With many ongoing impacts on women and children because of the quarantine measures, like school closures and loss of income, ACOM has been working closely with the government health and women’s departments, as well as counselling services and family support centres. This means those that need additional support can be referred quickly to the help they need.
While complicated by Cyclone Harold, our partner, the Anglican Church of Melanesia, Vanuatu (ACOMV), is working to ensure communities are receiving correct and government-approved COVID-19 safety and prevention messaging.
ACOMV is ensuring that people have knowledge of how to reduce the risk of COVID-19 through engaging medical personnel to demonstrate good health practices and developing education materials to distribute. The team have a plan in place to promote community awareness with door-to-door communication of key messages. Importantly, this will include engaging clergy to help build trust in these messages within communities.
* COVID-19: food, nutrition and the global poor, Colin Chartres on Apr 17, 2020, ANU Development Policy Blog.
All of these projects are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and by AOA supporters.