International COVID-19 Grants: United Methodist Women Acts Swiftly, Effectively to Save Lives￼
edited by Mary Beth Coudal
While COVID-19 has upended daily life worldwide, United Methodist Women’s national office, local in-country United Methodist Women and grassroots organizations have responded swiftly to mitigate the suffering of the most marginalized people in communities: the women, children and youth. Once again, during this pandemic, United Methodist Women and their partners are meeting the challenge and are quick, agile and creative in responding to crises.
By the grace and giving of members of United Methodist Women, immediate grants for food, hygiene, education, income projects and caregiving have supported faith, advocacy and children’s groups who have been directly impacted by COVID-19. Through United Methodist Women, national office staff team, consisting of Regional Missionaries and in collaboration with in-country working teams, grants were made based on assessed community needs.
In years past, Regional Missionaries have highlighted issues around health, gender equality, elimination of violence among women and support for people who have been uprooted and marginalized. This year is no different.
What follows are several summaries of the more than one dozen emergency grants made by United Methodist Women International Ministries in the last three months. The amounts of the grants vary from $4,000 to $9,000.
In Ecuador, The AMIEMUE, the Women’s Association of the Evangelical United Methodist Church of Ecuador, aims to help women regain their livelihoods. Specifically, women from rural communities and impoverished neighborhoods have lost their savings, small businesses and jobs.
The people of Ecuador, one of the first South American countries to be affected by the virus, have witnessed more than 4,000 neighbors die of the disease; yet the data is incomplete due to lack of testing. Ecuador’s strict quarantine caused paralysis to the country’s economic activity. Families lost their steady incomes. In the economies of Ecuador and most Latin-American countries, a large base of the population works in informal jobs.
Women’s daily income is the source of food for many Ecuadorian families. More than 60 percent of the population relay on agricultural production, temporary employment or in small food production businesses. After a lengthy quarantine, families who have depleted their savings, no longer have the funds to survive. A large part of the population, in extreme need, is receiving support via food kits from churches, other institutions, neighbors and the government. Fortunately, during the current harvest season, many poor families in the country are donating their crops to families in the cities.
Two hundred rural women without savings who are living in impoverished neighborhoods are benefiting from United Methodist Women’s gifts. In addition, this United Methodist Women funding supports 40 women who have chronic disease problems through donations of food and emergency medicines.
For spiritual nurture, women in 23 churches and communities in Ecuador, representing approximately 1,500 families, are receiving messages of biblical reflection, spiritual support, psycho-emotional support, health care guidance, prevention of violence against women and children counseling, legal advice and support to strengthen family life.
In Sierra Leone, vulnerable families in households headed by women initially were unaware of the basic and effective hygiene steps needed to prevent COVID-19. While the number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 has grown to more than one thousand in Sierra Leone, people were initially fearful and reluctant to access healthcare at hospitals. Another concern from Sierra Leoneans was the porous borders with that neighboring states of Liberia and Guinea would lead to rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 along the borders.
In addition, a decrease in employment has left many families hungry. The country has seen a rise in food insecurity, especially for the vulnerable groups of children and single-parent families headed by women. The lockdown period has exacerbated domestic sexual assault and gender-based violence.
Through the partnership with Sierra Leone’s United Methodist Women sisters, local women are providing psychosocial counseling, essential food distribution and hand washing supplies. Within a three-month period, individuals and families within six identified communities, representing approximately 150 people, are empowered with education, thereby enabling them to have access to food, be aware of solutions and take necessary precautions. Education on many elements of the disease, including social distancing and hand washing, has helped people avoid COVID-19 exposure and alleviate fears in Sierra Leone.
Cameroon has witnessed more than ten thousand cases of the virus with about half of these in the dense regions of Yaounde and Douala. United Methodist Women Association Cameroon is helping the people who have been impacted in these areas where access to clean water and sanitation facilities is a challenge. Many people affected in these low-income neighborhoods are domestic workers and casual laborers who have lost their jobs as result of the pandemic.
Underfunded regions before the COVID-19 are the areas in the greatest need of support after the onset of the pandemic. Many unemployed people do not have the financial resources to purchase extra soap and sanitizers. People who live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions may include the sick and elderly who are most at risk of severe illness or death after exposure to illness. United Methodist Women in Cameroon have been concerned for and have supported the people who have little access to medicine to treat their symptoms.
This funded project for the United Methodist Women Association Cameroon provides basic hygiene education and sufficient soap and resources to enable vulnerable families and individuals to prevent the spread of COVID-19. United Methodist Women Association Cameroon helps in producing and distributing 1,000 hand sanitizers, 5,000 masks, 1,000 gloves, 250 handwashing buckets and 50 cartons of soap. In addition, the United Methodist Women Association Cameroon have designed, produced, translated into various languages and distributed more than 2,000 posters and fliers. Another essential goal of the project is to physically demonstrate how to properly wash and dry hands.
In Yaounde and Douala, Cameroon, United Methodist Women are supporting dissemination of basic hygiene information and resources to minimize the number of vulnerable people contracting the virus.
Taking Swift Action
Around the world, United Methodist Women is taking swift action to assist and ensure protection of the underserved elderly or disabled people and the women and children who are directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through financial gifts to United Methodist Women, international groups are supported as they take unprecedented steps to prevent, care for and heal the people most at risk of suffering from the virus’s most devastating consequences. While recognizing that isolation is required to combat the disease, United Methodist Women’s partners are creating online support opportunities and spatially-distanced communities to share information with neighbors in need.
The initial results of the grants indicate a steady decline in overall exposure when community members work together, educate one another and look out for each other. The power and positivity of international partnership and community-based health advocacy is a foundation upon which the Regional Missionaries program of United Methodist Women is built.
For such a time as this.
Mary Beth Coudal is a consultant, journalist and teacher.
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