COVID-19 changes everything for War Child

| August 1, 2020 | 0 Comments
Education is still closed in Uganda. This overcrowded “classroom” shows the problem with reopening schools. (Photo: war child Canada)

Education is still closed in Uganda. This overcrowded “classroom” shows the problem with reopening schools. (Photo: war child Canada)

The COVID-19 pandemic represents an existential threat to countries already responding to the consequences of war and conflict. In particular, displaced people and host communities all over the world are at heightened risk as the virus continues to spread. Uganda, for example, hosts more than 1.4 million refugees, making it the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa and the third-largest in the world. A serious outbreak of COVID-19 would be devastating in this context.
Our staff at War Child tell us that the atmosphere in the refugee settlements is tense. Many who used to go back and forth to neighbouring South Sudan are now cut off. News of the death rates in the rest of the world is terrifying for those forced to live in cramped conditions.
As with all countries, Uganda is taking firm measures to help prevent the further spread of the disease. This includes closing all schools and higher education establishments until further notice, closing all non-essential businesses, restricting movement and preventing gatherings of more than five people. As necessary as these actions are, they are having a terrible impact on children’s education and on family livelihoods.
With the imposition of this lockdown, War Child’s programs for refugees could not continue as they had operated previously. Our accelerated learning programs (ALP), which allow children to quickly catch up on missed education, cannot now function in classrooms. Our youth training has been postponed due to social-distancing rules. And our community engagement work, which relied on large group meetings, is on hold.
However, our team has found innovative solutions to keep children learning and youth-led businesses afloat. Rather than closing down ALP, War Child, which has its headquarters in Toronto, has adapted it to an at-home learning model, so children do not fall further behind while schools are closed. It has also developed ways to mentor and advise youth-led enterprises remotely, to help them adapt their business models to be responsive to the needs of their communities in the face of the crisis. And they have found contactless means of bringing information on the crisis to refugee communities.
To raise awareness and help people reduce the spread of the virus, our team uses public service announcements on radio, printed materials, billboard posters and SMS and WhatsApp messaging to deliver advice to more than 800,000 people. The team will also be establishing 120 community handwashing stations and distributing hygiene kits containing soap, facemasks and sanitizer, to 12,000 vulnerable households.
War Child is also working with community members to identify small local businesses in need of support and provide them micro-loans of up to $500. In addition, it will provide these business owners with advice and support to identify alternative approaches to reaching their customers. This could be through internet sales, home delivery and contactless pick-up. This will be done remotely to limit contact and abide by social-distancing rules.
Refugee children have had their education repeatedly interrupted and the COVID-19 lockdown is yet another major blow. There’s a need for innovative solutions. War Child will be distributing home-learning materials to 18,000 children and is working with other educational organizations to collect and adapt existing radio education materials that align with the curriculum. These will be broadcast on local and national radio stations.
War Child is also working with the National Curriculum Development Centre to explore ways existing curriculum materials could be digitized and translated into a radio-based format.
The situation is fluid and War Child will need to be flexible as it tracks the pandemic’s progress. This is a worrying time for its staff in the field, and its team is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of frontline workers. But for the children and families War Child serves, COVID-19 is potentially a disaster on top of the existing catastrophe of war and displacement. We must all do everything we can to keep the virus from spreading in these fragile communities. If we are truly in this together, we need a global response to this pandemic.

Nikki Whaites is director of international development at War Child Canada.

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Category: Diplomatica

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Nikki Whaites is director of international development at War Child Canada.

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