NEWS

Updated on June 28, 2020

AVSI country offices and partners respond
to COVID-19 pandemic

AVSI is monitoring the continued development of the coronavirus pandemic in countries where we operate. We are aware of risks that local populations will face, especially having limited access to precarious health systems and already struggling with poverty, hunger, and conflict.  AVSI staff continues to accompany our beneficiaries, following safety regulations implemented in each country. We are doing everything we can to ensure minimal interruption of our initiatives, which many people need even more right now. Below are some testimonials we have received from colleagues who, like all of us, have to adapt, be creative, and remain hopeful during these difficult times.

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iraq (june 12, 2020)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, amid many doubts and questions, Jolar Jarjess was certain that being close to people affected by crises is a fundamental principle for effective humanitarian action.

"Our role during a crisis like COVID-19 is not to avoid danger, but to manage it in a way that allows us to assist the affected communities."

Jolar Jarjess, primary veterinarian working with "A virtuous production cycle to relaunch a city and its economic fabric for IDPs and returnees to the Ninevah Plains"
Tweet

Born in Baghdad, but living in Qaraqosh since he was four years old, Jolar Jarjess has a fundamental role in AVSI’s project “A virtuous production cycle to relaunch a city and its economic fabric for IDPs and returnees to the Ninevah Plains,” funded by U.S State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). Jolar has been the primary veterinarian since the beginning of the project, helping local farmers breed calves, sheep, and poultry sustainably.

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mexico (june 11, 2020)

Every day, Paula Vásquez tries to create for herself and her family a “new normal” during COVID-19. She wakes up at 5:30 AM, prepares breakfast, eats alone, and leaves two meals for her sons, sixteen-year-old Jesús and ten-year-old José Luis. Then, she walks through the narrow, dusty streets of the Monte Albán Colony, one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods of Oaxaca, Mexico, to get to work. It takes her half an hour on foot to get to Crecemos, the educational center where she works as a cook. There, she washes her hands, puts on a mask, and starts her new routine. In the next eight hours, she will prepare, alongside another cook, 300 meals to be distributed to the 150 families served by Crecemos.

“It is scary to work during a pandemic, especially because I know there are already a few positive cases of COVID-19 in the neighborhood, but I feel at peace here at Crecemos. We take all the possible precautions, and I can go back home feeling safe.”

Paula Vásquez, Kitchen Manager with Crecemos Tweet
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Brazil (june 11, 2020)

In Brazil, the new coronavirus is raging, and the number of affected people is rapidly increasing. It seems that we are the first country in the world where, after 50 days from the first registered cases, the number of cases of and deaths from COVID-19 is still increasing. The real numbers are even more staggering than what has been officially reported.

By May 14 in Manaus (about 2,200,000 people), there are around 1,000 official deaths, but an average of 150 people are buried every day. This stands in sharp contrast to the 30 deaths per day for the past year.

Manaus is one of the most affected cities in Brazil. To make matters worse, the public health care system is not proportionate to its population. Manaus (with almost 2,200,000 people) has the only ICUs in the whole Amazon region, and their 360 beds have been full since the beginning of April. Some private clinics are offering ICU beds for the astronomical cost of around $18,000 paid in cash, in advance. Coronavirus spreading among the indigenous people of the rain forest is a significant concern, because of their lack of access to medical care-even measles represent a grave threat to this population. Image

In the metropolitan area of Manaus, schools were closed on March 16, but we wanted to keep the Queen of the Apostles School open to help our students avoid any hardships or danger on their long trips back home. However, it has become clear that his pandemic will last longer than expected, so we decided to close, keeping only 15 students unable to leave due to the closure of many means of transportation.

Marcinete, our gardening teacher, contracted the coronavirus. Luckily, she has recovered and has been released from the hospital. Our prudence in remaining locked down at the school and its compound allowed us to ensure that no one else contracted the virus.

Taruma' Cemetery - Manaus. (Sandro Pereira Foto Arena)

UGANDA (June 9, 2020)

William Lenga, 52 years old, has been working as a boda-boda rider for the last two years. Boda-bodas are bicycle and motorcycle taxis commonly found in East Africa. William’s task is even more specific and vital: he transports ailing pregnant women, mothers with newborns, and young children to the nearest health facility for medical attention. When the first positive case of COVID-19 was announced in Uganda, William started worrying: how could he keep helping mothers in his community and care for his eight children’s safety?

"With this job that doesn't permit social distance, I didn't know how things would be and how I would take care of my family while assisting mothers in my community."

William Lenga, boda-boda rider in Uganda Tweet
1.Boda without mask

kenya (june 9, 2020)

In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, AVSI Kenya is working with a group of implementing partners in Dadaab to make 300,000 masks. The masks will be produced by refugees living in Dadaab as part of a task force led by LWF Kenya Djibouti Somalia. Masks have been distributed by a group of Boy Scouts supported by U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration through AVSI’s project “Transitional Support for Integration and Quality Education in Dadaab Refugee and Host Community.”

Some masks were customized for the women in Dadaab who wear veils that cover their ears. Scouts have designed a mask with longer straps that can go over the veil and strap on the back.

Ivory Coast (May 22, 2020)

On May 25, in Ivory Coast, thousands of children, including the beneficiaries of AVSI’s project “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program,” headed back to class after weeks of school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The West African country that has already reported 2,300 positive cases of coronavirus and 30 deaths became one of the first in the continent to re-open schools. Confident that learning can continue following health and safety guidelines, the Ministry of Education put in place a rotating system with upper classes (3rd, 4th, and 5th grades) going to school on certain days and the lower levels (1st and 2nd grades) on others. Children have to wash their hands before entering their school, wear masks at all times, sit six feet apart, and have bottles of hand sanitizer within reach.

"Before reopening their doors, the primary public schools shared with principals and teachers how to implement the proposed measures by the Ministry of Education. Schools cleaned the classrooms and schoolyard areas to welcome the students back, following the new rotation system."

Elly Bahati, AVSI Project Manager Tweet
AVSI _ IvoryCoastreopen3

uganda (May 19, 2020)

Watch this video to find out how AVSI Uganda is supporting refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Ugandan households living in Rwamwanja during COVID-19. Since March 22, when the first case of the new coronavirus was recorded in the country and the Government disbanded large groups by closing schools, suspending public transport systems, and shutting down non-food economic activities and its borders, AVSI has been asking beneficiaries to stay home and keep social distance while taking care of their gardens. 206 coaches and 89 trainers are also assisting 6,395 households to install and use tippy taps and practice regular hand washing to avoid the spread of the virus. 

The initiative is part of the Graduating to Resilience Activity, implemented by AVSI in partnership with Trickle Up and IMPAQ International and funded by the Office of Food for Peace, USAID. The goal is to graduate extremely poor refugee households who fled from DRC and Ugandan vulnerable households from conditions of food insecurity and fragile livelihoods to self-reliance and resilience.

 

mozambique (May 8, 2020)

Since March 23, when the Government in Mozambique closed all schools to avoid the spread of COVID-19, 22-year-old Misnia Zefanias Vilaculos has been struggling with a major challenge:

“The most difficult part of this epidemic is not being able to be with my students, children are a source of happiness and creativity, I miss them so much,” says Misnia.

For the last year and a half, Misnia had been going every day to the Xtinza Cultural Center and to the ten elementary schools in the Nhamankulo slum, one of the poorest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Maputo, to read and interact with children. With a strong passion for literature, Misnia not only shares the importance of reading but also helps students understand the messages contained in each story and imagine a better world. Not willing to interrupt this incredible encounter, AVSI moved Misnia’s reading session to a virtual platform. Now, instead of visiting the cultural center and schools, she goes to the local radio station where she reads a fairytale and leaves a message or simple greeting.

“The impact school closures may have on the future of these children, who are already living in precarious conditions, can be devastating. Since March, children cannot go to the place where they can socialize, a safe place. Schools in Mozambique are among the few places where children can find this since their own house does not always offer a safe environment.”

Martina Zavagli, AVSI representative in Mozambique Tweet

Dadaab, kenya (May 8, 2020)

Amid COVID-19 epidemic, AVSI is reinventing the way it delivers services. In Kenya, inside the Dadaab refugee camp, one of the largest camps in the world (200,000 people are currently living there), we are using Zoom to train teachers to provide quality education to the refugee and host community schools. The activity is part of the project “Transitional Support for Integration and Quality of Education in Dadaab Refugee and Host Community,” funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

“Continuity of learning will be crucial after the end of the pandemic”

Henry Waitindi, AVSI Program Manager Tweet

Although refugees and host communities living in Dadaab are keen users of smartphones and social media, the introduction of using Zoom for training was challenging since most of the beneficiaries were not familiar with the platform. AVSI trained beneficiaries on how to use Zoom while reassuring them that training will continue.

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Ivory Coast (May 8, 2020)

Physical distance cannot prevent learning. As schools have closed all around the world due to the COVID-19 epidemic, it is essential that children can still learn, no matter where they are or how. In Ivory Coast, AVSI, with the DPCE (Directorate of Pedagogy and Continuing Education), is working with the Ministry of Education to continue providing access to primary education for all children through radio. The initiative “My Class at Home” includes a radio show called “Little Stories of Uncle Marco,” in which students, teachers, and hosts read Ivorian short stories and tales. 

"Telling compelling and funny stories improves and encourages children to want to learn and practice reading. Children learn new words, a moral lesson, and improve their skills and get a taste for reading."

Elly Bahati, AVSI Project Manager. Tweet

This initiative continues the activities of the “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program,” a project funded by the McGovern-Dole Program of USDA and implemented by WFP and AVSI to foster the ability of children from kindergarten to 5th grade to learn and practice reading skills. Using radio allows for a broad reach across the socioeconomic spectrum, from rural and highly isolated areas to urban areas of the country. The radio program will also be used to raise awareness and educate both parents and children in rural areas on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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ecuador (may 5, 2020)

In this testimonial, Stefania Famlonga, Fundacíon Sembrar Executive Director, explains how AVSI-USA long-term partner in Ecuador is accompanying children and their parents during these unprecedented times. “We quickly understood that our people would need us even more, not only for material things that we could give them, but also for our very presence,” says Stefania.

iraq (April 29, 2020)

On Monday, April 27, AVSI delivered medical supplies to the COVID-19 Crisis Committee in Al-Hamdaniya, a district in the northeast of the Nineveh Governorate of Iraq. Among the items were medical masks (3,240), medical rubber gloves (3,000), and protective suits (200). 

The activity is part of the project “A virtuous production cycle to relaunch a city and its economic fabric for IDPs and returnees to the Nineveh Plains, Iraq,” funded by The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). 

With the participation of Mr. Issam Behnam, Mayor of Qaraqosh and President of the COVID-19 Crisis Committee, the kits were received by Mr. Dajel Sabih (Head of the Financial Committee), Mr. Boutros Chouni (Treasurer of the Committee), and Mr. Ibrahim Hano (Committee member).

Kits were stocked in warehouses. They will be used by the Health Department under the supervision of Dr. Samer Youssef Habib (Head of the Health Department in Al-Hamdaniya) and his team to guarantee that safety measures are followed in the designated areas. 

On behalf of the Committee, Mr. Issam Behnam thanked PRM for the support to the community in the Al-Hamdaniya district during this critical time.

"We are very thankful and grateful to PRM to give us the opportunity to distribute medical supplies in the district and therefore reduce the spread of COVID-19."

democratic republic of the congo (april 22, 2020)

AVSI is proud to be among the recipients of a recently announced Education Cannot Wait Global Fund. ECW is allocating a total of US$15 million in an initial series of emergency grants for the rapid delivery of holistic education services to protect and support vulnerable children and youth hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in 16 countries/emergency contexts. Activities ensure quality learning for the most vulnerable, in a safe, equitable, inclusive environment and through innovative and cost-effective responses in affected countries. 

Thanks to ECW grant ($340,000), AVSI will be able to accompany children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who are currently at home due to COVID-19 epidemic. The project’s main goal is to assure the access to quality education based on distance learning and improve security and protection in schools in the cities of Goma and Bunia, North Kivu and Ituri provinces respectively. In the next six months, this strategy intends to assure education through radio sessions, working groups at the community level and capacity building for teachers, members of COPA (Parents’ Committee) and RECOPE (Community Child Protection Networks) in order to assure a capillarity of the distance learning system.

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kenya (april 20, 2020)

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dadaab refugee and host community Boy Scouts supported by AVSI developed a Rapid Response Initiative (RRI). The RRI has two main components. First, to address the lack of running water for proper handwashing, Scouts are installing Tippy Taps, simple and economical handwashing stations, made with commonly available materials, and not dependent on a piped water supply. In Dadaab refugee camp, Scouts are building taps with jerry cans and rafters or broomsticks to construct the stand. Thanks to the new Tippy Taps, the community will be able to meet the recommended hand washing standards without wasting water.


The second initiative is to customize face-masks for the women in Dadaab who wear veils that cover their ears. Scouts have designed a mask with longer straps that can go over the veil and strap on the back.


Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), and with the approval of Dadaab Deputy County Commissioner and Dadaab Chief, Mr. Abdulkadir Abdi Farah, Scouts will also identify and visit the most vulnerable households in the host community to raise awareness about COVID-19.

Italy (april 16, 2020)

Back in the fall of 2005, employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, couldn’t believe their eyes when a group of impoverished women from this war-torn country, many of them with HIV, knocked on their doors to donate nearly $900 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. For weeks, the women of Meeting Point International had broken rocks on the hillside slum of Kireka to raise money. Their goal? To give back to the Americans who were suffering in the aftermath of Katrina and “repay” the generosity of many Americans who donated to AVSI and AVSI-USA and had helped them build two schools for their children.  

Today, this story repeats itself. Deeply moved by the heartbreaking news of the effects of COVID-19 in Italy, another AVSI long-term partner, the Don Bosco Association in Nairobi, raised funds for coronavirus victims. Alongside other partners in the 32 countries where AVSI implements projects, they recently donated 35,000 Euros to the Fatebenefratelli Sacco Hospital in Milan, one of the most affected cities in Italy and also where AVSI has headquarters.

“Once the pandemic moved from China to Italy, all our partners began to ask how they could help those who have been supporting them for many years. This donation is an expression of reciprocity; it is the fruit of a relationship based on friendship and co-responsibility.”

Andrea Bianchessi, AVSI Representative in Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda Tweet

AVSI Foundation has been particularly close to the staff working at Sacco Hospital for many years. Some of our staff members have been treated by doctors in the Department of Infectious Diseases, and two doctors have worked with AVSI in the past. 

Photo by Andrea Signori
Photo by Andrea Signori

Uganda (april 14, 2020)

On March 22, Uganda recorded its first case of COVID-19 and the Government swiftly took a series of directives to disband large groups by closing schools, suspending public transport systems, and shutting down non-food economic activities and its borders.

Aware of the possible social shocks these measures might raise, AVSI has remained active in connecting with communities to accompany them with messages of disease prevention and hope. We have combined efforts with the Local Government (in 20 districts) and other agencies in the Government-instituted District Task Force geared towards planning, lobbying, surveillance of suspected and confirmed cases, and communication and behavior change activities through radio talk shows and on foot using megaphones in the people’s local dialects.

"I’m happy to be here and to share our expertise in this battle. We learned important lessons from the field in the fight against Ebola. The populations are conversant with our work here and they have been very supportive in this fight against COVID-19"

Dr. Lawrence Ojom, Project Manager - AVSI Foundation Tweet

The District Task Force is an organ of international agencies, community leaders and the Local Governments with the goal to coordinate a collective response to the COVID-19 emergency, taking into consideration the real contexts in which people live, including host and refugee communities.

AVSI’s constant commitment in the District Task Force is to support health teams in case identification and ensure availability of isolation space for suspected cases, sensitize the local populations with Standard Operating Procedures such as keeping social distance, hygiene measures and other prevention messages, and facilitate running costs for ambulances to ensure cases and samples quickly reach laboratories for testing.

We are reaching 335 health facilities in Northern Uganda with our services during this time with funding from UNICEF and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.

mexico (april 9, 2020)

On March 20, Mexico closed schools nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A few days earlier, on March 17, Crecemos had already sent home the children who come regularly to the educational center located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Oaxaca, Mexico. In their bags, Crecemos staff helped them pack homework, instructions on how to wash hands and keep social distance and their musical instrument. Twenty-six children took home their guitars to practice every day for at least one hour following lessons given by Maestro Francisco by video.

“I hope you have been able to practice every day,” says Maestro Francisco in one of his videos. “Whenever you practice, invite your mom, invite your dad and sibling to come and listen to you so they can all participate in your practice.”

Ximena, nine years old, and her brother José Manuel, eleven years old, are among Crecemos children who are now practicing at home, studying and receiving support through phone calls and social networks. Hoping that they will be able to go back to school soon, they shared with Crecemos staff the video below. Their resilience is the result of the love and support they receive from Crecemos and their families.

"We are accompanying our families as close as we can and addressing their needs as they arise."

Adriana Girón, Crecemos Project Manager Tweet

SYRIA (APRIL 6, 2020)

By Elise Ann Allen with Crux

Speaking to Crux, Flavia Chevallard, AVSI representative for Syria, said “there’s a lot of fear” about just how bad things are. Though the country has just 19 confirmed cases and two deaths, after nine years of civil war that has left only half of the country’s hospitals fully functional, testing is inconsistent and supplies short.

“This is the uncertainty now, there are very strong measures in Syria for the number of cases we have, but there are not that many tests, so we are all aware that there are more cases,” she said.

Since March 12 Syria’s borders have been closed and schools, universities and mosques shut down. Around 10 days ago a curfew was implemented, barring citizens from going out for large parts of the day. However, with a large percentage of the population living in poverty, self-isolation in crowded houses without a paycheck is impossible.

“There are many people who live day-to-day, either day jobs or a daily salary, so by now they are not working for several days. It’s not a sustainable situation,” Chevallard said.

Flavia Chevallard, AVSI representative for Syria Tweet

Hunger is growing, she said, as people crowd around bread shops that sell at a discounted price.

“There are some people, if the bread is not at that price, who cannot eat,” meaning that in the struggle to get to the front of the line, no one is paying attention to social distancing.

“This is a big problem. There will also be an economic crisis in Europe, but here it’s a question of hunger from day one. This is the difference,” she said, noting that Syria is currently “on its knees”. With the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, “the economic situation is like a bomb that could explode, because people are really at their limit.”

For the past three years AVSI has run an “Open Hospitals” project in partnership with the Holy See and the Hungarian government aimed at providing healthcare to poor families and individuals who cannot afford payment but require treatment, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

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argentina (April 2, 2020)

Meet Ahida. She is a farmer who owns a small piece of land in the rural area of Tucuman, Argentina.

Although she lives in precarious conditions, she has been sharing her land with her neighbors so they can all put into practice knowledge acquired through community development workshops on agroecological agriculture implemented by ACDI, a founding member of AVSI Foundation in Argentina. 

Over the last few months, the group set several goals that now can only be achieved thanks to Ahida’s efforts. Since Argentina imposed a quarantine to contain COVID-19, she is the only one who can still take care of their crops and plants. Every morning she gets water in a bucket and, with a watering can she made, waters the plants one by one. 

She takes care of the plants with confidence because she knows if there is any problem, like a plague, she’s not alone. Ahida can reach her technical advisor, Fernando, in a few minutes, or share her experience with other farmers to get advice.

“During the workshops, Ahida and her neighbors learned how to cultivate crops with the resources available. Now, they know how to grow various vegetables following an agroecology system, using organic soil, saving water and enhancing the agrobiodiversity. Today, this effort means resilience.”

Martina VIsmara, ACDI Project Manager Tweet

uganda (March 30, 2020)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the women of Meeting Point International (MPI) go to the Uganda-based NGO’s office in the heart of Kampala’s slum to sing, dance, pray and do yoga. Two weeks ago, when the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of schools and suspended religious meetings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the women’s routine changed drastically. 

"What people are experiencing in Italy, United States, around the world, is part of the human experience. The fear, the pain, the happiness is part of this experience. Everything that is happening to us is little compared to our value as human beings. I’m scared too, but fear doesn’t define who I am. MPI had to close for a month, but we are aware of who we are, of our infinite value, which is bigger than the universe and therefore bigger than a virus, even bigger than death.”

Rose Busingye, founder and president of MPI. Tweet

Kenya (March 26, 2020)

Working under the Kenya Scouts Association framework of Rapid Response Initiative (RRI), the three Dadaab Sub-County Scout Commissioners have asked Patrol Leaders to practice the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared,” to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya. This week, patrol leaders have been working in various neighborhoods in the Dadaab refugee camp through a series of sensitization activities.

The scout leaders are translating and spreading messages, alerts, and updates on COVID-19 circulated by Kenya’s Ministry of Health into the Somali language to families and community members. 

Scouts working in pairs are also reinforcing the importance of social distancing and proper handwashing techniques to prevent COVID-19.

We train Scout leaders on advanced scouting activities as part of the project Integrated Education Response in Dadaab and Host Communities, funded by U.S. State Department Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

"It is in the Boy Scouts promise "to help other people at all times." In Dadaab refugee camp, they are living this commitment despite their challenging situation. Bravooo!"

Henry Waitindi, AVSI Program Manager Tweet

Uganda (March 25, 2020)

Florence Tumuheirwe, resident of Bwizi in Kamwenge, South West Uganda, has installed a tippy tap near her home. This simple device has running water and will ensure that all family members can wash their hands with soap and water to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This is one of the ways we are encouraging refugees and host communities in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement to prevent the spread of the disease in the area. We are working hard to guarantee that everyone remains healthy and resilient.

We are only able to help beneficiaries like Florence install her Tippy tap thanks to the USAID-funded Graduating to Resilience Activity.

to learn more about our response to COVID-19 visit AVSI Foundation website