Toybox Covid 19 Update: 21st April 2020
As the global pandemic continues, with many countries in strict lockdown situations those of us working with children who rely on the streets for everything are watching a terrifying situation unfold. As one of the most vulnerable groups already, street children are likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19 and are more likely to go on to develop severe symptoms and complications from the virus. We already know that street children struggle to access medical attention when needed so during times like these when their country’s healthcare systems are over-stretched they are even less likely to receive the care and attention they need to recover.
The street children and families we work with are dependent on informal employment, living a hand to mouth existence, often in very basic conditions. With shops, restaurants, markets, drop-in centres and other support services closing we know the vulnerability of these children and young people will increase and on top of this most of them do not have safe places to isolate in. The majority of street children Toybox works with are unregistered and with their income generating opportunities shut down they become entirely dependent upon their governments to support them. However unregistered children are invisible to their governments, they do not officially exist and therefore are unable to access any support, making them even more vulnerable as they face the immense trauma and insecurity this pandemic brings. We are facing the real fear that more children and young people will be driven to the streets as schools close and families cannot earn a living.
Another challenge for those living on the street has been how to prevent the spread of the virus. Our partners have been tackling this in various ways. In Guatemala we support work in three areas with no access to running water and so have recruited a company to come with a water truck to fill containers for the communities to enable them to have clean, safe water. In India our partner has been distributing flyers and erecting hand washing stations, to ensure that all members of the communities they work in are able to access the necessary information and understand the vital prevention methods that can stop the spread of the virus. In Kenya staff have been working with families to ensure they understand the key prevention messages of social distancing, good hygiene practices and keeping children within the home.
All our partners are working to stay in touch with street children and families during these times, continuing their work where possible and adapting it as they can to continue to support and reach the children with their project areas. We wanted to share a brief update with you as to what they are currently doing:
Our partner in Guatemala is working across two locations and have been able to quickly implement some life-saving activities. Conacmi are supporting shelters for street children to provide food, medicine and other essential services during the country’s curfew (4pm to 4am). They are also working with a local business to supply 150 children in Guatemala City with food each day. Alongside this they have brokered a relationship with a supermarket and have been able to issue food vouchers to families and children in the most need. The supermarket is then accepting these vouchers in exchange for a range of basic food items. It is also very effective way of ensuring that project staff are adhering to the social distancing measures, as they are not required to purchase basic foods and deliver them to families. Additionally, they are supplying phone credit to those children who have mobiles and then sending informative videos and content, both on protection from COVID-19, as well as to support their mental and emotional health and on trying to limit domestic violence.
In Bolivia, Alalay has been working to place the children in shelters and where a number of children have not wanted to go to the shelters they have worked to reconnect them with their extended families.
Our partner Viva in El Salvador is continuing to link up street children with the services they need as far as possible through their networks to ensure they are being supported. Those children in shelters are receiving food and medical attention as required. The team is also currently planning activities to provide vulnerable families with basic food items now they are unable to go out and earn an income.
Chetna in India is working tirelessly to reach as many street children as possible but are facing challenges with the delivery of their response due to the lockdown conditions within Delhi. However, they remain in contact with children through various telephone communications. And before these restrictions were imposed, they had mounted their response and had already reached children and families with handwash and awareness material and hygiene kits. Project staff are also connecting children into emergency schemes which are providing food.
Our partner PKL in Nairobi, Kenya is keeping in touch with their project beneficiaries via the telephone as the lockdown rules mean they cannot travel to see them. The main challenges they are hearing about is that the small businesses they had started with support of the partner are almost collapsing as a result of increased prices of commodities in the market and increased transport costs.
In Nepal our partners are concentrating efforts on emergency response activities consisting of food distribution. As the lockdown continues, they are seeing the vulnerabilities with the communities they are working increasing. The Child Helplines which are run by one of our partners are responding to child protection concerns. In the first three weeks of lockdown, they received more than 5,000 calls and have, to date, responded to 1,900 cases. They are reaching out to the street children young people through our field workers, distributing relief packages as the government has provided them with a lockdown vehicle pass.
In Sierra Leone St Georges Foundation is part of the national, government-led taskforce which is responding to the needs of those affected by the virus. The curfew rules in Freetown are affecting the street children as their daily movements to secure food for their normal upkeep have been restricted. The project’s social workers are currently in the field visiting our beneficiaries, monitoring what is happening and what efforts will be required to support families, this will also include the provision of psychosocial support.
Our work in the UK continues as normal with the team all being based from home. We continue to receive 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. If you need us, please email [email protected] or call the team on 01908 360080 as normal. And you can keep in touch with us via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or email.
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.