Front Line News: FH’s COVID-19 Response

Many Canadians like you love and care for Food for the Hungry partner communities and are anxious to know how they’re holding up. Here’s how FH is walking alongside partner communities and other vulnerable families amidst the global pandemic. FH isn’t new to responding to disaster. While the coronavirus has catastrophic potential for the vulnerable groups FH works with, we are committed to keeping everyone safe. Refugees living in camps, women, children, and elderly people are many who are threatened by both the coronavirus disease and its economic implications. Food for the Hungry is in a unique position to help. Within each community, we have cultivated strong relationships and are attuned to the needs of the individuals within. Current programs that already exist in each partner community are shifting to meet the new needs rising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Four Pillars of FH’s Response to COVID-19 in Vulnerable Communities:

1) Keep staff and community members safe.

All programming is being adapted to abide by WHO and national governments’ guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus. FH is working hard to implement new working policies for staff in order to keep staff and community members safe. FH staff all over the world have been mandated to work from home whenever possible, and to roll out the educational components (workshops, training) of programs remotely. For essential services (food aid drop-offs or medical supplies deliveries), staff comply with WHO health guidelines such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing to protect themselves and community members from the virus. In Guatemala, the government has instituted a “toque de queda” (“touch of stay”) - a curfew asking everyone to stay home between 4PM and 4AM, so FH staff have adjusted their work schedule accordingly while still doing their best to stay connected to community leaders.

Within ongoing construction projects in Ethiopia, community members have adapted to comply with social distancing measures mandated by the government. Workers continue to improve infrastructure in their communities while staying safe.

In all countries, FH staff have adapted their programming. In Cambodia, for example, they now share health and hygiene messages to a team of volunteers via cellphone, who then share their knowledge with their communities in a safe way. Additionally, FH Cambodia is working closely with UNICEF and local health centres to personally distribute hygiene kits.

2) Provide essential lifesaving services to communities.

FH remains committed to its mission to implement lifesaving services in health and WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), and to ramp up food distribution services.
In Guatemala, for example, FH provided the Guatemalan Ministry of Health with hospital sheets, surgical masks, waste bags, blankets and pachos, hygiene kits, and more. 

FH staff provide health kits and masks to health clinics and hospitals.

Families in Rwanda are feeling the economic impact of work restrictions. FH is providing beans, maize flour, and soap for distribution to vulnerable families via local leadership channels.

FH staff in Rwanda drop off beans, maize flour, and other life-saving resources for FH partner communities. Supplies are entrusted to local leadership who can safely distribute it to community members.

FH is also partnering with LifeNet in Uganda and Burundi to enable their staff to train health professionals in COVID-19 identification and treatment, provide personal protective equipment to families, and share easy-to-understand messages about preventing the spread of the virus. To accompany, handwashing stations have been set up in communities, particularly in schools.

Schools in Burundi have remained open, so handwashing stations like the one pictured above are imperative
to curbing the spread of the virus.
In Ethiopia, FH staff are hosting demonstrations on good sanitation and physical distancing practices, accompanied by the distribution of soap, sanitizer, masks, gloves, and food rations to thousands of community members.

Members of FH’s Ethiopian partner communities wait to use a handwashing station while maintaining social distance.

In Bangladesh where FH is partnered with Medical Teams International to work with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, staff continue to run four health clinics and train community health workers to prevent the spread of the virus in the camps. A 50-bed COVID-19 treatment centre is currently being constructed, including a lab that will help test and confirm coronavirus cases.

Construction has begun on a 50-bed facility in the Rohingya refugee camp. 

Patients in the densely populated Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh are strongly encouraged to follow social distancing measures. Currently, a new 50-bed COVID-19 treatment facility is under construction to help confirm and support potential coronavirus cases.

3) Reduce the spread. 

FH is working with partners to scale up WASH programming and preventative education, and support the supply of personal protective equipment to those who need it most.

All country offices have adapted their programming to spread this lifesaving advice, especially to those in rural partner communities, giving them the best fighting chance to avoid the virus. 

Rural communities in Guatemala have implemented life-saving handwashing practices. Through phone communication, FH staff provide community leaders with up-to-date information on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

For example, FH Ethiopia has started a media campaign using news networks and social media to teach people  how to identify COVID-19 symptoms and how to self-isolate. They’re offering this information in several languages, including Amharic, Oromifa, and Somali, and have engaged local musicians and poets to help creatively spread the word - they’ve even filmed several messages in sign language.

4) Recover early. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable communities will result in new and heightened educational, social, economic, and political challenges. FH is working to understand and mitigate these challenges while preparing to implement early recovery programs in partner communities.

FH staff in Cambodia strongly encourage community members to bolster their household gardens to create a wider margin of safety. FH staff have set up their own gardens to model ideas, growing produce that stores well and grows quickly like sweet potatoes and morning glory. One staff has even demonstrated how to build a fish pond!

Creative new initiatives such as fish cultivation can help families have an additional source of food as many communities anticipate food shortages.  

FH is bolstering Savings and Loans groups in the Philippines, for example, to ensure small businesses can get back on their feet once stringent social distancing mandates are lifted. FH is paying close attention to challenges that may rise throughout the lifetime of this pandemic, and readying a plan to deal with those forecasted challenges.

FH Savings and Loans groups are helping small businesses dealing with COVID-19 related financial challenges. Community members are providing for their families by selling cloth face masks, which in turn help protect the community.

(Additional specific COVID-19 related updates on partner communities can be found here.)

Frequently Asked Questions:

How is FH’s health and hygiene programming in our fields preventing the spread of the new coronavirus?

FH is working hard to provide families regular access to resources, such as clean water and soap. We are helping local leaders promote life-saving practices such as handwashing in homes and schools by encouraging the use of tippy taps and discouraging physical contact, like handshaking. FH cultivates close relationships with leaders and heads of households which allows us to act as a trusted source of information and advice.

Additionally, FH helps community members gain access to health care through clinics and medicine. In the past, FH health programs have contributed to the prevention and response to other infectious diseases such as cholera and diphtheria.

How is FH supporting my sponsored child’s education during this time?

Your sponsored child’s education is a top priority for FH, and we will continue working with communities to support learning throughout this crisis. The reality is, however, that the majority of schools in partner communities are shut down due to government social distancing mandates, which causes significant challenges for families with little to no internet or phone access. FH is working towards creative solutions to connect with parents and caregivers to support children throughout their education.

How is FH helping families who have lost their jobs or can’t work during this crisis?

COVID-19 prevention measures such as social distancing lockdowns have impacted the livelihoods of vulnerable families. As they are unable to leave their homes to go to work, many have lost their jobs. With no source of income, they are unable to afford basic necessities, such as food and water. To help alleviate the loss of income, FH is providing households with food vouchers and food baskets.

How is FH staff sharing COVID-19 prevention messaging while maintaining a safe distance from partners and community members?

Hundreds of FH staff are now using cell phones to distribute lifesaving information about how to recognize and prevent the spread of COVID-19. They call and text the many formal and informal leaders they have been training (like Cascade group leaders and community health workers) to encourage social distancing, handwashing, and isolating those with symptoms, as well as how and where the sick can seek treatment. These leaders, in turn, pass the information along to their immediate networks in a safe way. Through this system, FH staff continue to provide practical and emotional support while not putting the communities they love at risk. 

How is FH working with governments or ministries of health in their local responses to the global pandemic?

FH is sharing materials and resources around preventing COVID-19 and distributing critically needed medical supplies. For example, in Guatemala, FH responded to their Ministry of Public Health by providing urgent supplies such as face masks and gloves and other basic medical supplies for use in rural areas.

What are FH’s concerns for children and communities we work with?

Infectious diseases like COVID-19 always put the poor at a higher risk because they often lack access to the basic resources needed to stop the spread - clean water in the home, soap, well-ventilated rooms, space to safely isolate the sick. FH takes this pandemic and its repercussions very seriously. Our global staff is going above and beyond to promote the health and safety of children in our communities through vigilant monitoring and planning. FH is supporting families with information about the virus, protective supplies, and food parcels. With the widespread lockdowns being triggered by COVID-19, specifically, FH has concerns about the disruption of children’s education and adults’ ability to earn an income. When incomes go down it becomes difficult or even impossible for families to buy food and other necessary items for survival. FH is actively looking to the future and preparing programs to get communitis back on their feet as quickly as possible once the threat has passed.

Can I still write to my sponsored child?

Yes, you can still write to your sponsored child/children. We encourage child sponsors to continue writing letters, as now more ever, sponsored children need inspiring words and prayers for safety and health. However, it should be noted that during this time, there will be a delay in sending and receiving letters so our staff can focus on the immediate needs of each sponsored child’s community. FH staff have limited access to communities, and mail is running slowly in many countries. Once social distancing measures have been lifted, FH will prioritize delivering your heartfelt mail.

Have any sponsor children been diagnosed with COVID-19?

To date, we have not had any reported cases of coronavirus among our staff, sponsor children, communities, or partners. We are vigilantly monitoring the situation in each of our countries of operation in case this changes. In addition, all of FH’s country offices are orienting their staff on how to confront an outbreak should one occur in their area.

Donate to Help Families Respond to COVID-19

Please keep partner communities, sponsor children and their families, and frontlines FH staff in your thoughts and prayers. Globally we may only be the beginning of this crisis, and the repercussions of the pandemic are now spilling into economic, social, and political arenas. FH is incredibly proud of the work its staff are doing and the risks they are facing to support vulnerable families around the world.

Read more on FH's response in partner communities 



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Food for the Hungry: Front Line News: FH’s COVID-19 Response
Front Line News: FH’s COVID-19 Response
Food for the Hungry
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