May 10, 2021

What legal status means for Venezuelans in Colombia

In February, President Duque of Colombia announced that each and every Venezuelan living in Colombia will be granted protective status by the government. This is a huge breakthrough for the 1.7 million migrants living here. It is also a historic moment of recognition for Venezuelans, who are currently the world’s second largest displaced group.

As inflation and unrest mounted in neighboring Venezuela, entire communities were forced to leave their homes. Many walked across the border to Colombia, where only 40% held legal status. This posed a major barrier to accessing even basic social services and kept legal employment out of reach. IsraAID is one organization among many working to fill these gaps and ensure that communities are able to build a better future for themselves, but collaboration between public, private, and non-profit organizations is essential to truly provide the support that is needed.

This influx of new arrivals exacerbated ongoing challenges in Colombia. The country has an unemployment rate in the double digits, which increased dramatically during the pandemic. Limited resources in education, in health care, and in other social services buoyed xenophobia. People crossing the border arrive with serious medical concerns including high rates of malnutrition, while also coping with the emotional stress of leaving their home and rebuilding their lives.

This historic announcement is a gamechanger for our daily work here in Barranquilla, where our teams provide education services, psychosocial support, and livelihood opportunities for these communities. One major issue we faced previously was in providing job training for new arrivals: 60% of Venezuelans did not have the right to work legally. In light of this, we could only provide employment support for the minority who did hold work permits. This often left out those most vulnerable.

It may also affect the composition of our staff team itself. Employing members of displaced communities is a key part of IsraAID’s approach. Now, with legal status available to all Venezuelans, we may be able to hire more Venezuelan staff members than we would have before.

Another example is in education. Our Child Friendly Spaces have been operating for close to two years now, providing a transitionary framework for children before they start in Colombian schools. Previously, children who did not have legal documentation were not eligible for public school. While there were many success stories of overcoming this bureaucratic challenge—and we are incredibly proud of the 85% of our students who did start in public schools—there were always going to be children that would never be able to move on from our program.

The role of our Child Friendly Spaces is now more important than ever. In addition to the legal barrier facing Venezuelan children, enrolling in the public school system requires proof of previous grade completion. Many children from Venezuela were out of the formal education system for multiple years, which created a significant academic gap. Our Child Friendly Spaces’ targeted curriculum streamlines their preparation for the public school system. Now that all children will be legally eligible to enroll, our academic services are even more critical, and will be able to support even more children.

While this announcement will help to push forward integration, additional support is needed to leverage the immense potential it holds. Our teams are preparing to launch awareness raising campaigns to reach currently undocumented Venezuelans and help them step by step through the process to gain legal protection.

The other enormous challenge ahead of us is addressing the social and cultural aspects of this change. While legal integration is confirmed, social integration is not. Combating xenophobia and promoting diversity is critical in this moment—to build a better future for all in our communities. Now that Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Colombia have been granted legal status, this work comes next. We at IsraAID Colombia are excited to play our part.

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Apr 22, 2021

Safe Drinking Water in the Bahamas

 

On Grand Bahama and Abaco islands, our WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) team is in the midst of a water management project, monitoring the quality of water across the islands, much of which was contaminated or salinated by Hurricane Dorian.

As Hurricane Dorian swept across the Bahamas in 2019, two of the northern islands - Grand Bahama and Abaco - were impacted most severely. The inhabitants of these islands receive their drinking water through groundwater extraction, but as the hurricane pushed ocean water into these sources, safe drinking water became unsafe. 

 The first phase of the WASH project involved drilling monitoring wells in various locations, 8 wells on each island. These wells are equipped with advanced sensors to determine the density of groundwater lenses, monitor water quality, and identify saltwater intrusion from storms and the rising of sea level. The well design considers storm surges, and clear protocols have been established regarding the wells' maintenance and protection in the event of more hurricanes. 

Working with the Grand Bahama Utility Company and the Abaco Water and Sewage Corporation, WASH Program Manager Gil Guberman and WASH Program Coordinator Dr. Ancilleno Davis provided utility staff with in-the-field training on sustainable groundwater management, installing sensors in the new monitoring wells across the islands, and monitoring the wells remotely. 

The wells will ultimately help manage the islands' water resources more sustainably, with Wi-Fi-ready sensors that provide monitoring data remotely, sending data daily from the field to the utility companies. Currently, trips of up to a few hours are required to monitor each well, but with the new technology, this will be drastically reduced. Not only will the data provide information about if the water is safe or not, but it will also inform the utility companies on how much water can sustainably be extracted. 

This project started as an IsraAID WASH program but will continue well into the future to protect the islands' freshwater resources and deliver fresh water to the people of Grand Bahama and Abaco.

Thank you for supporting IsraAID Bahamas in our recovery from Hurricane Dorian.

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Mar 8, 2021

For some, International Women's Day is canceled this year

With Sexual & Gender-Based Violence on the rise in South Sudan, International Women’s Day celebrations are more important than ever, yet they’ve fallen casualty to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

February saw a large spike in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in South Sudan. Public services have been closed for months, and it doesn’t look like we’ll see the lockdown lifted anytime soon. Without an end in sight, we’re anxious about the “shadow pandemic” – the secondary consequences of COVID-19 – and have seen an increase in incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

 

As COVID-19 Cases Rise, So Does Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The pandemic has cost many people their job and the value of the South Sudanese Pound has plummeted, leading to increased tensions at home. Affording just one meal a day is not a simple task for many families. With so much control taken from people’s hands, stress levels are high. Since the pandemic began, we have been able to continue to meet with vulnerable people already known to us and manage and refer SGBV cases, but expanding our reach has been on hold for many months now. There are more survivors of SGBV that need our support.

With limited access to the community, we’re fearful we aren’t doing enough. Our biggest concern is the sharp increase in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It is reported that up to 90% of recent cases of violence are related to COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, this was already our main focus, creating safe and empowering spaces for women and girls and providing case management for survivors of SGBV, but the situation has only worsened over the past year. In 2020, 50% of women in South Sudan suffered from intimate partner violence.

 

Reduced Access to Communities

The virus entered the country in April, and, over the past year, the government has escalated restrictions as cases continue to rise. Travel bans, school closures and curfews created barriers to our activities that transformed our regular in-person activities in Women and Girl Friendly Spaces to door-to-door visits, severely reducing the number of people we can reach in a day. But with the recent uptick in cases, our staff have become less welcome during home visits. Many fear that people from outside of the community could bring COVID-19 to their homes and families, and at as much as $75 per test – more than two months of income – accurately tracking the virus is near impossible.

Our Community Emergency Council members and Community Focal Points act as custodians linking the organization to the community. The latter conduct home visits with support from social workers, making it possible to meet with vulnerable people and still keep within COVID-19 guidelines. They provide crucial information and can refer vulnerable people for relevant services. As trust declines, the community focal points have become our saving grace. These are trained volunteers who serve as the link between IsraAID and their communities, without which, access would be near impossible.

Since July 2020, we have been providing direct psychosocial support to 426 survivors of GBV in Urban Juba, Kajo Keji, Meridi and Lainya. Those supported include survivors of rape, sexual assault, psychological abuse, physical abuse, child forced marriage, and denial of resources or services. These communities are dealing with both their displacement and the pandemic, so it’s crucial to have their trust. As COVID-19 cases increase in South Sudan, trust towards others decreases.

 

Why International Women’s Day Is So Important in South Sudan

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to celebrate and recognize the contribution of women at all levels — family, community, and even institutions. It is a day to educate the community to consider women’s rights in all activities. The women in the communities we work with are our driving force. They plan how IsraAID celebrates IWD, based on their priorities. In the past, this has included singing about women’s rights, short plays, and sports games. Our role as IsraAID is to guide the process, but this year there has been no process to guide due to restrictions imposed by the government on social gatherings.

This week we should be celebrating one of our biggest annual events, but after a year of one-to-one meetings instead of community events, we’re yet again missing an opportunity to reach a considerable number of people with key awareness-raising messages. At our IWD events, we find all different community members – men and women, religious leaders and community chiefs, and girls of all ages. It is an opportunity to meet, discuss, and ensure thousands of new people hear the resilient women of South Sudan.

Even with continued lockdowns, office closures, positive COVID tests in our team, and fear within the communities, we are doing all we can to provide survivors of sexual and gender-based violence with the support they need. IsraAID has been working in South Sudan for 10 years, and with that experience behind us, we know we can get through this pandemic, no matter how long it takes. We hope we will be able to mark the next International Women’s Day together.

 

IsraAID South Sudan is the core leader of the GBV working group at the state level, and has been actively involved in the establishment of GBV referral pathways in Juba, Kajo-Keji, Lainya and Maridi. IsraAID is an active member of the Humanitarian Response Plan 2021 and is represented in the Protection Cluster, MHPSS Technical Working Group, and Child Protection Sub-cluster.

Galla Isaac Stephen is IsraAID South Sudan’s Protection Program Manager.

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