Helping in the Age of COVID-19
Creativity and collaboration are both themes that reflect Cuso International’s approach during the COVID-19 crisis, to meet the evolving needs of vulnerable communities around the world. “COVID-19 has presented challenges of a type and scale we’ve never before seen,” says Glenn Mifflin, CEO of Cuso International. “The creative ways in which Cuso International has adapted are vivid examples of how we prioritize our motto of ‘people helping people’—wherever and whenever the need arises.”
Protecting women from violence in Honduras
Karen Pavón, Cuso International’s country representative in Honduras, is focusing on a destructive effect of the pandemic that few are talking about: a three-fold increase in violence against women.
The National Institute of Women is promoting a tool that increases women’s awareness about the types of relationships they have with their partners.
As well the Centre for Women’s Rights is supporting female victims of violence by helping them find shelter and providing legal support. For these organizations, Cuso International has either been directly involved in programming or supported their capacity to deliver services.
In addition, Cuso International is supporting women’s economic development, working with small businesses in rural tourist areas helping them acquire biosecurity and food kits. The program is also provides key information about how to stay safe during the pandemic. The biosecurity kits contain essential materials including masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers so businesses can receive clients indoors in relative safety. Food kits contain organic seeds and fertilizer, which contribute to food security for poor families in rural areas.
“Cuso International and our partners are fighting hard to support our more vulnerable beneficiaries” – Karen Pavón, Country Representative | Honduras
Cuso International’s Honduras team is preparing to support economic reactivation after the pandemic exploring different opportunities to be part of the solution for vulnerable groups. Cuso International recently partnered with Vos Honduras to develop face masks for “Las Manos Hablan” school for the deaf, the see-through screen allows them to read lips and has been a tremendous help for this community.
Providing support with emergency funds in Peru
With more than 800,000 cases of COVID-19diagnosed, and the entire country under a state of emergency since March 16, Peru has implemented the most stringent COVID-19 lock down measures in the world. This reality has had repercussions for everyone who lives there and has affected Peru’s most vulnerable populations.
“Many people were trapped in Lima (Peru’s capital city) when the country locked down,” says Pilar Garcia, Cuso International’s country representative for Peru. “They were unable to get back to their home provinces and had to sleep in parks. With no public transportation available, others had to journey hundreds of miles on foot with their children to get home.” To make matters more dire, 72 per cent of Peru’s economy is considered “informal,” which means millions of people have no benefits and no access to income when they cannot work.
Cuso International is working through its Women’s Voice and Leadership Project in Peru to get funding to some of the people who need it most. The project brings together leading women’s rights organizations to strengthen the women’s movement nationally and ensure the full exercise of women’s rights across the country. Women’s Voice and Leadership has a built-in emergency “fast response” fund that has proved vital during the era of COVID-19. Organizations are using the funding to support beneficiaries such as Rosa, a 53-year-old woman from the Puno region in the Andes. “With no steady income since the pandemic began, Rosa is one of hundreds of beneficiaries who have received packages of basic items such as food and sanitation supplies,” says Pilar.
The funds are also being used to provide psychosocial support for women going through pandemic-related stress, depression and anxiety. Their symptoms stem from multiple stressors, such as fear about the future, the loss of close family members, and gender-based violence, which has increased three-fold around the world since the pandemic began.
Some of Cuso International’s partners are using funds to invest in personal protective equipment such as face masks. Others are using them to buy uniforms for women who are providing information about the importance of staying home during the pandemic. “We never imagined these funds would be used for a pandemic,” says Pilar. “But it’s been very helpful to have this mechanism available to help women and families.”
Learn more about how Cuso International is supporting women in Peru through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protecting jobs in Colombia
Colombia is a place where Cuso International’s culture of innovation is protecting partners as well as beneficiaries. The economic and social emergency generated by the pandemic has affected businesses across Colombia, threatening their sustainability and putting people out of work. This issue is most threatening for vulnerable populations such as women, youth, and migrants. Losing employment is a devastating setback for these groups.
Without Cuso International’s support, I would not have been able to keep my job at Almacontact.” – Miquel Altamar
A COVID-19 contingency plan was developed to support private sector partners so they could continue to honour their labour contracts. The plan includes funding to help cover wages, biosecurity kits to protect workers’ health, supports for working from home, and cash transfers for transportation and food. The contingency plan has supported 23 enterprises in four cities, resulting in 90 per cent of workers staying in their existing jobs.
“Without Cuso International’s support, I would not have been able to keep my job at Almacontact,” says Miquel Altamar, a 25-year-old migrant from Venezuela who spent years searching for steady work in Colombia before landing a full-time position in Almacontact’s call centre. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Miquel had no choice but to continue working from home. To help him adapt, Cuso International rented him a computer and provided him with a secure and permanent internet connection. Miguel is relieved that he can continue as part of the Almacontact team. “It is a company where people are not classified by their nationality,” he says. Almacontact provides Miguel with a good enough living that he can send part of his income to his sister and mother who are unemployed and live in Venezuela.
Spreading health care awareness in Cameroon
The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly in remote areas of Cameroon. In response, Cuso International has launched a project in the Centre, Littoral, East and South regions of Cameroon to flatten the curve and save lives.
“The response focuses on women who traditionally are less exposed to information and who, because of their mobility outside their households in search of subsistence, are at high risk of contracting the disease,” says Ginette Sindeu, Cuso International Program Officer, Cameroon.
Four women’s empowerment centres are directly involved in the project, that includes the production and distribution of hygiene and protection kits to health workers and centres, families, and schools. Local women are being hired and trained to manufacture the protection kits. “Training in the manufacturing of protection kits—masks and soaps—in the women’s centres not only contributes to women’s economic empowerment, but also involves them in the response plan against the disease,” says Ginette. One door-to-door campaign covered seven localities where community health workers visited more than 800 households to educate people about COVID-19 and how to avoid its spread. The campaign reached 1,770 women and 1,540 men. This work continues for secondary schools and women and family health centres.
Radio campaigns are also helping in the fight against COVID-19. Six community stations in Cameroon, with a combined audience of 200,000, aired radio spots aimed at topics ranging from stigmatization around COVID-19 to the best ways to manage funerals. The broadcasts were based on a Cuso International-led initiative, that trained 122 beneficiaries on the particulars of the disease and how to combat it.
In another campaign, Cuso International’s Cameroon country office participated in an awareness initiative on Radio Femmes (Women’s Radio), which reaches 120,000 from its headquarters in Mbal-mayo. The program encouraged people to stay vigilant against COVID-19 and seek health care support if they have been exposed or have symptoms.