As the world rallies together to face the global COVID-19 pandemic, never has a sense of emergency and solidarity seemed more important. At Friends-International we are on the frontline, providing emergency support and saving lives of the most marginalized communities across Southeast Asia.
The COVID-19 virus affects everyone and no-one is escaping its impact. Vulnerable communities are being hit worst: poor hygiene, lack of access to healthcare and job losses are putting families and communities at even higher risk. In many Southeast Asian countries, health insurance and unemployment benefits don’t exist for the poor.
We are acting now to protect children and families – and we are doing so through a multi-faceted emergency approach, outlined below.
Temporary closures to ensure safety
Our education centers, vocational training facilities and training businesses have closed temporarily, to abide by government restrictions and to ensure the safety of our staff and beneficiaries.
Students have been asked to stay at home and our teams continue to follow up with them and their families, providing hygiene and protection training to make sure they are safe and healthy. Remote learning is problematical because our training is very hands-on and practical. The environment the children and youth live in means they have very limited access to technology and cannot follow online courses. However, our case managers are following-up regularly by phone and keeping them motivated to get back in training as soon as we can re-open!
Some cannot return to their families, so we’re adapting and upgrading our transitional homes and student group homes to the enhanced safety standards we have developed, including setting up isolation rooms, use of personal kitchen items such as plates and cutlery, distribution of hygiene material, application of social distancing…
Providing support to families in marginalized communities
We believe that education in health and hygiene saves lives.
Our outreach teams have been reinforced and are going out to communities – equipped with protective material – to disseminate prevention and protection messages. They are teaching kids and families how to wash their hands, avoid touching their face, keeping their environment clean and practising social distancing to avoid the spread of the virus. Posters in local languages have been created – based on WHO and UNICEF trusted sources – and distributed in communities. Visual content such as videos modeling good behaviors is also shared with communities as well as on our media channels to reach a wider audience and disseminate messages as fast and as widely as possible.
Training community volunteers to reach out further
A key part of our response is training up our network of ChildSafe Agents. These are volunteers protecting children within their communities. They are our eyes and ears when we cannot be there, and are crucial in the current situation. We’ve been training all existing and new Agents to help us quickly reach thousands more vulnerable people to curb the spread of the virus. They disseminate key prevention and protection messages, identify risks and take action when needed.
With more children staying at home and economic difficulties arising for their families, there is an increased risk of abandonment and abuse, and it is only by training ChildSafe Agents that we will be able to protect those children through positive action.
Providing employment counselling for youth and families
The pandemic is already exacting a terrible toll on Southeast Asian economies, with tourism curtailed and many businesses closing. Families without savings have no social safety net to fall back on and are being doubly impacted by the huge drop in tourist numbers, on which many depend for their living, as well as the consequences of enforced social distancing, preventing them from going out to work and earn money.
Our Futures team have all hands on deck to provide remote support and counselling for youth and families. They are following up on those we recently placed into jobs who may be experiencing difficulties due to company closures or salary reductions.
The team is also conducting career counseling by phone for those who need support and advice in these uncertain times.
Getting ready for lockdown
While some Governments have not announced a strict lockdown yet, we are preparing various scenarios as emergency support to families living in poverty will become even more critical when lockdowns come into effect.
Social workers are identifying families who will need distributions of emergency food or other support if they are required to self-isolate. We are preparing material and organizing logistics to make sure essential needs are being fulfilled and supplies are being delivered to families and communities.
This emergency response will be crucial not only for families’ survival, but also to ensure that the need to self-isolate is respected and the virus is not spread further because people break quarantine in order to access food or other supplies.
In addition, for all families already in lockdown across the globe, we have created a new ChildSafe ‘7 Tips’ resource to help them manage the situation and support them at this time.
Partnering with local businesses and NGOs to support the most vulnerable
The temporary closure of our businesses (restaurants and shops) is having a direct impact on what is an important service for our beneficiaries and a crucial source of unrestricted income for our work with children and youth.
Fundraising efforts have now redoubled as we’re working on building a strong network of local partners to join forces and get through the crisis more efficiently. At a local level, food delivery businesses, pharmacies, and others have already committed to support Friends and the communities we’re working with. Internationally, many of our donors have demonstrated extreme flexibility and kindness in solidarity to the challenges we – as everyone else – are facing.
An amazing solidarity movement is starting to emerge, reinforcing our belief that together, we can save lives!
If you want to be part of the movement and help us in supporting the most marginalized communities, you can make a donation to our COVID-19 emergency fund. A generous donor is matching all donations up to $10,000!