Responding to the Pandemic: Stories of Resilience, Creativity and Leadership

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Nobody could foresee the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic would bring. Yet, over just a few short months its effects spread like wildfire. Routines were disrupted and livelihoods were threatened as COVID-19 touched and transformed every facet of our lives. But while isolationism, insecurity and racism seemed to be hallmarks of this time, communities refused to let these become their realities. This period has also been defined by resilience and innovation, as many have worked together to overcome challenges.

In the face of the pandemic, communities, organizations and individuals saw an opportunity to make something better. Both locally and globally, people recognized that in this chaotic time we are stronger together. Recovery and resilience must be global projects. People took it upon themselves to create short-term solutions to address immediate crises and to plan continuous work towards long-term visions of a sustainable world. 

“COVID-19 cannot be defeated unless we the people empower ourselves and take responsibility for its mitigation. The pandemic will not end without unity of purpose and action” Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, O.B.C., O.C., Reconciliation Canada. 

While the chaos of the pandemic could have made many feel disconnected, at the same time a leap to online spaces allowed programs to reach individuals and communities in the most remote of locations. At home, online networks have connected like-minded Indigenous innovators across the province. In Afghanistan, innovative programs have ensured that access to education for girls did not recede by providing distance learning tools and other necessities.

As the problem of food scarcity materialized, traditional food preservation skills became more relevant than ever. Both at home and abroad, skill-building and investing in locally-produced foods enabled more sustainable communities. Internationally, local-food supplies have also provided women and girls independence from prevailing market systems. The result has been the strengthening of social relations, autonomy and an increased ability to shelter in place.

While the virus seems unmanageable at times, coordination of public information systems have offered stability and protection. Coordinated and efficient health practices allowed some communities to defy the odds and remain free of COVID-19.  Recognizing barriers to information access, a Ugandan organization ensured that public information about the virus was available to all by creating public service announcements catering to youth with various communication needs. Access to reliable information meant mitigating the spread of both the virus and fear. 

When it started to feel like it was every person for themselves, organizations stepped up to make inclusion their priority. Dedicated staff were able to maintain vital access points to justice. Legal services and advocacy groups were able to continue empowering their communities online with the help of a massive influx of impassioned volunteers. 

Problems caused or exacerbated by the pandemic may not look that same from country to country or from one community to the next. But resilience has no citizenship. Though the responses were diverse, the feeling of coming together is universal. Not only have these organizations weathered the crisis, they have created lasting solutions that change the way we think about global cooperation. 

“It goes to show that in times of crises we can rely on others to step in and fill the gap created by circumstances that not only impact ourselves, but the most vulnerable people in our population.” Jelena Djuricic, Access Pro Bono.

These projects are exceptional illustrations of the role we all have to play in the security and well-being of our communities – both local and global. They ask us to extend our consideration and compassion beyond our immediate neighbours. Our communities have shown us that the effects of cooperation can extend beyond our borders. We know that this crisis won’t end for anyone until it ends for everyone. 

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Featured Projects

Since 2002, the First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) has offered funded digital skills training to Indigenous learners across British Columbia, Canada. 

Typically, they offer in-classroom, face-to-face training in partnership First Nations across the province. COVID-19 has drastically changed how they provide training to First Nation communities. 

When the pandemic began, the FNTC moved very quickly to modify their offerings, as many of their students come from Indigenous communities that do not enjoy the same high level of health care and other social supports that other Canadians do. They ensured social distancing immediately and worked with all staff and students to pivot to a virtual classroom model. The FNTC is proud to say that they were highly successful, and their students experienced smooth transition to new online learning environments with little disruption. As a result, they’ve created a strong online network of likeminded Indigenous innovators, and continue to maximize opportunities for Indigenous tech talent.

Access Pro Bono (APB) promotes access to justice in British Columbia by providing and fostering quality pro bono legal services for individuals and non-profit organizations of limited means.

Before the pandemic, APB hosted over 100 clinics per month, most of which are in-person legal advice sessions for low income clients. As the COVID-19 situation progressed, both lawyers and clients were cancelling their appointments due to fears and risks associated with the pandemic. However, staff and volunteers were able to quickly and efficiently transfer all in-person appointments and clinics into emergency telephone clinics. APB even saw an influx of lawyers reach out to volunteer their services in addition to client call volunteers. Without the help of volunteers, both lawyers and non-lawyers, they would not have been able to continue providing resources to their communities, whether it be advice regarding income assistance or other kinds of legal support.

“It goes to show that in times of crises we can rely on others to step in and fill the gap created by circumstances that not only impact ourselves, but the most vulnerable people in our population.”

The Kootenay Collaboration Network (KNC) builds connections & collaborates with Kootenay-based organizations working on sustainable development initiatives.

During the pandemic, Kootenay Food was not able to deliver its usual programming due to physical distancing measures, but they still felt the need for increased regional food security.

Their solution was to implement sustainable methods to diversify their food sources and services. Kootenay Food bought an abundance of seeds, all from BC seed growers, and distributed free seed packages to approximately 400 gardeners in the region. Recipients were encouraged to “grow a row” and donate back to the community at the end of the growing season. Kootenay Food will also be producing gardening skill instructional videos over the summer to help participants succeed with the project.

This project built local food resiliency and empowered the community, creating deeper regional food security. When food security is tenuous, skill-building and investing in future locally-produced food and seeds is crucial to the sustainability of a community.

videa logo

VIDEA is an international development agency focused on addressing human rights issues by engaging youth and communities in critical development issues, building links with overseas partners, and providing solidarity and support to address human rights violations. They are currently working to help youth respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic presented a number of challenges for communities around the world. For the youth that VIDEA works with in Zambia, the pandemic threatened livelihoods, food security, and access to education. These obstacles presented mental health challenges for youth.

VIDEA has helped youth, in both Canada and Zambia, to cope with and respond to these challenges. Veronica developed a vegetable garden and sold these vegetables to secure an income, while also improving access to food for her community during the pandemic. Data allowance was increased so staff in Zambia could work and study from home. Items were provided to Nyapachuma Memorial Foundation to help protect street children from the virus. VIDEA youth in Zambia worked hard to translate WHO documents into local languages. VIDEA’s community at large met virtually every week for a night of heartwarming Storytelling.

VIDEA’s response to the pandemic has helped youth to bolster food security, secure work, study from home, feel a sense of community and normalcy and protect themselves from COVID-19.

Reconciliation Canada is an Indigenous-led charitable organization acting as a catalyst and guide for social change, and is a leading voice for reconciliation across the country. They are engaging people in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people across the country. Through open and honest conversations, they hope to foster an understanding of their diverse histories and experiences. They engage multi-faith and multi-cultural communities in explorations of the meaning of reconciliation.

Reconciliation Canada has adapted the spirit of their programming as a result of COVID-19. Meaningful partnerships and community outreach programs have been implemented to work through the pandemic and into the new normal. During this time, they have emphasized our need to unite and empower ourselves to take responsibility for COVID-19 transmission and mitigation strategies.

Food for the Hungry Canada (FH) is a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to ending poverty, one community at a time. Recognizing that each community faces unique challenges as well as advantages, FH is committed to an integrated, holistic approach to development including priorities such as agriculture, education, health and gender equality.

The people of Tuol Tasek in rural Cambodia face challenges in income generation, a slowed economy and health concerns due to COVID-19. Due to the ongoing community development work already in place, FH was able provide immediate intervention with sanitation education and tools. FH Cambodia is led by locals and works to train local leaders. These leaders are positive influences in their communities and lead by example by practicing physical distancing, staying at home and wearing masks.

FH is also a UNHCR partner and works in a variety of places, such as the Joint Rohingya Response Program in Bangladesh. Here, health services offered had to adapt due to the pandemic, including education, training workers and the rapid expansion of medical facilities.

Infinity Ideas Network is a non-profit community based organization that seeks and creates job opportunities for deaf and disabled people in Uganda. Infinity Ideas Network provides and implements innovative ideas to holistically bridge the unemployment gap for people with disabilities. 

Infinity Ideas Network launched a COVID-19 awareness project in partnership with UBC ORICE  to promote education. In an effort to produce accessible resources for the deaf and hard of hearing community, Infinity Ideas Network produced a series of short videos focused on COVID-19 public health information. These videos are formatted with subtitles, Ugandan sign language and infographics.

This project has connected with over 250 deaf and hard of hearing youth to provide vital information on the virus and preventive measures. These videos have been dispersed over a variety of social media platforms in an effort to reach deaf and hard of hearing youth who are among some of the most stigmatized individuals in their communities.

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WA) engages Canadians in supporting education for women and girls in Afghanistan. 

Since the pandemic started, CW4WA has been working with their Darakht-e Danesh Library (DDL), the Afghan Ministry of Education and other partners to develop new distance education tools to make study from home resources widely available. With schools facing extended closures due to the pandemic, they have supported a localized reading program for children with their partner Storyweaver, and they have launched a new courseware site. In addition, they have been producing content related to the pandemic itself, including a translated comic focused on hygiene in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. CW4WA’s partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Education has helped develop and record lessons, which are then broadcasted over the radio and television with the funding of Global Affairs Canada. They are also distributing “learning baskets” to those without access to computers or the internet, which include a number of resources to use at home. This project aims to close the learning gap for female students in particular and support the continuation of education safely at home. Since many students from their FTZ school in Kabul are also facing food insecurity due to the lockdown, CW4WA has been providing emergency food packages to meet basic food security needs.

Vecinos Honduras empowers vulnerable people in rural and remote communities to holistically manage their development. In partnership with World Neighbours Canada, Vecinos Honduras has been addressing the issue of food insecurity during the pandemic. World Neighbours Canada engages with programs that lead people to be reliant on their own powers and resources. 

COVID-19 has contributed to an increasing uncertainty regarding food supply and food security for families in small communities in Honduras. In response to the threat of food insecurity, many are working with Vecinos Honduras to buy food for families in need.

The majority of rural households in Guatemala lack sanitary services, making them more susceptible to disease. Many families use a pit latrine in the open fields.  Most women cook on an open fire on the ground. Food insecurity has also been a challenge.

With the support of Kenoli Foundation and a Guatemalan organization called FUNDENOR, vulnerable families in rural communities have improved their homes by building improved stoves, clean latrines, showers and “pilas” (a facility for collecting water and washing dishes and clothes). The effect of these resources on families and their homes is evident. They now have cleaner and more appropriate basic services. The hygiene and health of children and adults has improved and they have a higher chance of protecting themselves against COVID-19.

FUNDENOR has also spent months training women in new farming methods. These women now have vegetables and poultry to survive the pandemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, they do not need to go to town to purchase their food, since they harvest vegetables and raise poultry it in their own backyards.

The Wellspring Foundation believes that every child should have access to a quality education that sees them equipped for a future worthy of their dreams and potential, and many of the Rubavu District schools they work in run essential feeding programs. However, due to the Rwanda-wide lockdown, those feeding programs are no longer available to students and families who rely on them. Many people depend on cross-border trade with DRC to earn a living, and are hugely impacted by the border closure. Wellspring recognized the immediate need to provide relief, as did funding partners who responded generously. They were able to procure 35 tons of maize flour and beans that were distributed team of drivers to the most vulnerable neighbourhoods around Gisenyi.

This endeavour is providing food aid to approximately 12,000 individuals. Through Wellspring’s work in education, and the relationships that have been built with partners in the Rubavu district through this work, their team was immediately able to assess the needs of the students and families they serve, and through the generosity of partners, they were able to effectively respond. Children require nutrition to learn, and in the midst of COVID-19, this was a tangible way for Wellspring to demonstrate their ongoing care and commitment to these children and their families.