WRITTEN BY COLTON MARTIN & ERYN AUSTIN-BERGEN
This year the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe without warning, triggering a health crisis unlike anything the world has seen for over a century. This virus does not discriminate between gender, class, or culture. Everyone has felt its effects.
But not proportionately. It is clear the pandemic and its aftershocks have a greater impact on communities struggling against material poverty. Higher density households and limited access to clean water and soap has made poorer communities struggle to stop the spread of the virus.
When local and global economies came to a grinding halt this year, families living hand-to mouth didn’t have financial safety nets to fall into. As a result, a second, even larger wave is mounting on the horizon—a hunger pandemic.
In light of these realities, it would be reasonable to assume that FH Canada’s partner communities were crushed by this global crisis. After all, with so little in their pockets, how could they survive a pandemic that has brought the world’s most powerful nations to their knees?
We are happy to report that our communities appear to be totally “unreasonable.” While they have struggled and have had to dig deep, we have watched amazed as families come together to take a stand against COVID-19. Through creativity, personal sacrifice, compassion, and a prevailing sense of togetherness, they are showing the rest of us what it means to not only survive, but thrive in a pandemic.
If you peered down the streets of Acul, Guatemala during late July’s COVID-19 pandemic you’d see parents, kids, and elders preparing for the evening curfew. A father of three passes over a handful of beets and carrots to an elderly couple—both his hands clasped around the bundle of vegetables, careful not to drop any. The excess produce from his kitchen garden can't be sold at the market, which is closed due to lockdown. Instead it goes to the elderly couple next door.
This is a picture of a community thriving in the midst of a global pandemic.
FH staff on the ground in Acul reported a change in the community since the start of the lockdown. As uncertainty for the future began to grip the community, so did a spirit of generosity, love, and care for the most vulnerable.
A DIFFERENT BOAT
You may have heard the quip “we’re all in the same boat,” in reference to all people across the world dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 together. The truth is, while the pandemic impacts us all, individual situations can be wildly different.
António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, observes, “It is a myth that we are all in the same boat. While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts while others are clinging to the drifting debris.” This analogy helps us picture how other communities struggle in a material sense. And it’s true—FH partner communities don’t have the same access to resources that we have here in Canada. But to say they “are clinging to the drifting debris” is not the whole picture. It leaves out the rare assets these communities already possess—their resilience, adaptability, and sense of solidarity.
THE FULLER PICTURE
The community of Busekera, Rwanda, challenges our assumptions of poverty within the pandemic. Busekera has its own share of worries rising from COVID-19. But what they lack in material wealth they make up for in grit, and generosity.
When schools and churches bolted their doors, when markets emptied and parents lost work, a fear of the future took hold of the small Rwandan community. But as the pressure for survival intensified, families began to show what they were capable of.
|Silvestre’s garden has been thriving since he began to apply the agricultural techniques he learned in FH training workshops.|
Silvestre knew there was no easy road ahead for his family. He knew if they were going to make it through the pandemic, he would need to apply himself. By joining an FH Savings and Loans group prior to the pandemic, Silvestre had saved enough money to buy a cow. Once his cow gives birth to a calf, he plans to give it away to a neighbour in need. By honing his agricultural skills at FH workshops before COVID-19 struck, Silvestre had made good use of his land and increased his crop production. As a result, he’s spent the last weeks of lockdown passing on the same life-saving agricultural techniques to neighbouring farmers so they, too, can eat during the crisis.
|Silvestre’s family tends to their new dairy cow together. Through Sylvestre’s hard work, he’s positioned well in his community. Not only will he have enough to eat, he will be able to share his cow’s future offspring with others in the community.|
Silvestre explains, “I will never ever hesitate to share knowledge, skills, and experience with my community members.”
Silvestre is doing a lot with his simple resources. He is painting the fuller picture of his Rwandan community. There is more to Busekera than poverty and need.
A GROWING HUNGER CRISIS
There’s still a grim future forecasted for much of the developing world. A combination of war, political unrest, and famine made food security an issue for millions already. Now with the global pandemic, things have gotten worse.
David Beasley of the World Food Programme says, “Analysis shows that, due to the coronavirus, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020. That’s a total of 265 million people.” Beasley warns, “There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”
How will FH partner communities weather this second wave?
When FH starts walking alongside a community, they work with local leaders and families to reshape many of the values, practices, and way of living for the community. Teachers, pastors, and parents gather together, agreeing on what values they want to foster in their community. They come up with a plan to overcome their poverty and think of ways to weather the storms that life throws at them. Partner communities are proving they can get through a hunger crisis. To help, we may need to balance the urgency of global hunger with trust that communities hold tremendous potential to eradicate poverty. They just need help realizing that potential.
So how has Acul fared in the face of COVID-19 and the growing hunger pandemic? For Jacinta, a mother of three, and other families like hers, they have continued to tend their household gardens and care for their livestock which regularly give milk and eggs. For the most vulnerable families, FH supporters like you provided food care packages with essential rice, oil, beans, and salt. Much of FH’s programming pivoted to deal with the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath. If anyone in Acul worried about going without food, their community is postured to help one another.
It’s clear that the impacts of COVID-19 in North America are different from those in the developing world. A vulnerable family in Guatemala or Rwanda likely deals with obstacles greater than the average family in Canada. And it looks like they’re at a disadvantage for survival, like their resources may not stretch far enough. When you see the grit, creativity, and generosity of these communities, and the faithfulness of those walking alongside them, it’s evident they have what it takes to thrive in the face of crisis. As we chart these choppy seas together, we would be wise to follow the example of communities like Acul and Busekera, who rely on each other when times are tough.
 Santos, J., 2020. Why We Can Still End World Poverty During Coronavirus. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/covid19-global-poverty?> [Accessed 2 September 2020].
 Beasley, D., 2020. WFP Chief Warns Of Hunger Pandemic As COVID-19 Spreads (Statement To UN Security Council) | World Food Programme. [online] Wfp.org. Available at: <https://www.wfp.org/news/wfp-chief-warns-hunger-pandemic-covid-19-spreads-statement-un-security-council> [Accessed 2 September 2020].