Date: 27th March 2020
Update on COVID-19
As the corona virus continues to spread rapidly across the globe, and we are bombarded with updates and worrying numbers, it is easy to miss those that we are not hearing from. Children, and particularly street children, are the hidden victims of this pandemic. It threatens children’s rights and exposes them to higher risks and we need to do everything we can to protect them.
Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Coronavirus as a global pandemic all the countries in which Toybox works have implemented preventive measures in order to control the transmission of the virus. Many of these countries already have fragile and under-resourced health systems and therefore their governments are concerned about their ability to cope with the added pressures the virus will bring.
Toybox and our partners are working hard to put in place measures to continue our vital work with street connected children. The situation in the contexts where we work is changing daily, as governments act to curtail the spread of the virus. We would like to take this time to reassure you that we are moving fast to adapt and change our methods of working to ensure they are meeting the needs of the street children as they arise because we know that today, these children are at their most exposed, their most vulnerable.
As COVID-19 is easily transmissible, it means that street children are particularly susceptible to contracting it. A huge challenge that we face when working to protect the children we support is that the two things we know work best to prevent the spread are the two things that street children will have the biggest challenge in doing: practicing good hygiene and social distancing. And both require a home.
Our partners are working alongside their country governments to ensure that street children are given access to shelters and healthcare as well as looking to ensure they are not criminalised for being homeless. We understand that social distancing in shelter environments will be extremely difficult and recognise that many street children find the transition to living within a building very challenging and therefore they may leave. Another huge issue that street children will face is linked to their country’s specific rules around restrictions on movement and being out in public spaces. When lockdowns are enforced with criminal sanctions and time away from the home is only permitted for critical work or to buy essentials such as groceries and medicine, those living on the streets are at a high risk of being prosecuted.
We wanted to share some brief information on how our teams will continue to reach those children living and working on the streets around the world during this pandemic. Some of the critical actions we are taking to help support street connected children include:
Information provision: Access to information, and the opportunity to fully understand this is critical in any crisis. Ensuring this information is available in accessible formats, such as in pictorial and child friendly versions is essential for vulnerable populations. In Nepal, our partner CWIN quickly produced child friendly materials to help disseminate effective prevention measures and provide essential information about where to go for help. In Guatemala, before the government imposed quarantine began, our partner held a health day where staff trained street children on Coronavirus and how to protect themselves, and where to go for help if they have symptoms.
Access to essential sanitation materials: Prior to lock down in Bolivia, our partner Alalay provided hygiene kits for street children and vulnerable families, along with practical demonstrations of effective handwashing and preventative measures.
Supporting children’s emotional and mental well-being: Our partner CHETNA in India has created a phone tree to help maintain regular contact with the street children they support, finding out how they are and also sharing vital information with them. Other partners are using similar strategies to be in regular contact with these vulnerable children and young people and offer them much needed emotional support.
Working to ensure that street children are ‘visible' in national response plans: In Guatemala, our partner, CONACMI worked with other local NGOs to call on the Ministry of Health to prioritise the protection and rights of street children in the government response to COVID-19, including providing safe places to stay, access to health care and nutrition. In Bolivia, Alalay have worked alongside other organisations and the local municipal authorities to find a safe space for children away from the streets to sleep, access food and medical care. If they show symptoms, they will either be taken to a health centre or a doctor will come to them at the shelter. Prior to the country going into quarantine Viva El Salvador worked with the national street children network and the authorities to ensure that street children are given protection. They have been taken to shelters and will receive food and health care, provided by the authorities.
And finally our work in the UK:
Team Toybox have been working effectively from home since 16th March. As an international agency one thing we are good at is using technology as we already need it to keep in touch with our global partners and now we are using that some technology within the UK team, so none of our meetings or appointments have been cancelled, everything is happening as planned - just virtually! So, if you need us, please email [email protected] or call the team on 01908 360080 as normal. We have also implemented a system which means we have, and will continue to receive all the post you send us, and if you have sent a cheque our fully automated and electronic systems mean your cheque will be most gratefully received and banked as usual. So, Team Toybox is functional as near to normal as possible at present.
Please keep the street children and Toybox in your thoughts and prayers, as we are thinking and praying for you.