Charity’s church partners empower poor communities during pandemic

The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to push between 119 and 124 million more people into extreme poverty. A recent report from the International Development Committee (IDC) concludes the indirect humanitarian and development reversals and crisis could be more devastating than the direct impacts of the coronavirus in developing countries.

In response to the growing crisis — and as UK-aid funded NGOs face the proposed cut in Rishi Sunak’s Budget next week — some development experts are calling for a decentralisation of aid from a Western-base in order to invest in and work through local communities and grassroots organisations.

International children’s charity Compassion UK was among the NGO’s that contributed evidence to the IDC report of the secondary impact of the pandemic in the poorest countries. The local church partners that Compassion UK works through are planning an economic response to release the world’s poorest children — and their caregivers — from poverty and help counter the socio-economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

This includes providing entrepreneurship opportunities, skills development, encouraging community savings groups and continued education, as the IDC report also highlights how people across the Global South are more in fear of threats of job losses and starvation than the coronavirus. Rising levels of national debt have left vulnerable economies at risk of failure and according to the WHO almost half the global workforce of 3.3 billion people could lose their jobs.

Justin Dowds, CEO of Compassion UK says,

“Our church partners are seeing incredible stories of transformation and hope, even as they navigate the added difficulties brought about by the pandemic. The economic crisis is affecting millions of people in poverty, but it’s often the children who suffer the most and become more vulnerable because of malnutrition, lack of food (often because of loss of caregiver income), and interrupted access to education. It’s never been more crucial to equip families with the skills and resources they need.”

While education for the 2 million children enrolled in Compassion centres continues to be a key focus to help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, Compassion UK’s church partners have seen first-hand how poverty has been made worse through the pandemic restrictions, seriously affecting the children, their caregivers and communities they serve over the past year. As a result, the national directors of Compassion across 25 countries have identified plans to provide more vocational and entrepreneurial training and assistance to families to help them launch income-generating businesses — often with the help of Compassion alumni who have grown up to be successful entrepreneurs and professionals themselves.

In Rwanda, Compassion partners support caregivers to launch income-generating activities and form savings groups. Mother of twins Alice signed up to Compassion’s Survival initiative for babies and mothers and can now earn income from making and selling clothes through the provision of a sewing machine. She says,

“I was always a stay-home mother who was sad and lonely. But today I have people to share business ideas with, people to laugh and cry with. I felt the support of the fellow caregivers and Compassion project staff the most during the Covid-19 restrictions. They gave me clothes to make for them so that I could earn and take care of my family. I’m thankful to God.”

Compassion sponsored children Alice and Daria are standing next…©CompassionUK

The church partners in Compassion Peru are also encouraging mothers to step into new business ventures through sewing, as well as providing resources and training for families to counter malnutrition through gardening. The centre gave the mums seeds to grow their own vegetables at home. The technician hired by the centre has trained and helped 160 mothers to grow radishes, chard, beets, lettuce, cilantro, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, celery and green onions.

Doris is grateful her eight-year-old daughter Sully got registered into Compassion’s sponsorship programme four years ago and says,

“If it wasn’t for the Compassion centre, no one else would help us. Going through this [pandemic] and not being able to work has been very hard. I didn’t know anything about gardening, but I was willing to learn. I don’t have to go to the market to prepare meals anymore. I can just go to my backyard and get what I need. It’s a blessing from God.”

Mary Lema, Compassion Tanzania’s National Director, says,

“The work that Compassion has been doing in our country has changed people’s lives greatly. We have seen a lot of families get out of poverty and be able to venture out and become entrepreneurs. We had made progress in helping the families, but the pandemic set them back. A lot of families lost their livelihood.”

Through vocational training to all children and encouraging caregivers to join saving groups, Compassion’s church partners in Tanzania want every child to have a skill that can earn them a living. The goal for caregivers is to enable them to access cheap loans for their businesses through saving groups.

Mary says, “We had a caregiver at one of our church partners that lost his job during the pandemic and had a granddaughter in high school. Saving groups gives him a chance to get a loan and start a business to take care of his family, and for the child with a skill, she can employ herself.”

Sixto Gamboa, National Director of Compassion Ecaudor concludes,

“The fight is tremendous, but hope and faith will not stop; efforts to release children from poverty in the name of Jesus will never stop.”

Main image: Mum Doris, pictured here with her daughter Sully who is enrolled. ©CompassionUK

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