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May 28, 2020

Preparing for COVID-19 in a Refugee Camp

Since 2011, IsraAID has been working in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. We have established Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) projects, psychosocial support networks, Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), among other education, protection and mental health projects. Due to the recent COVID-19 global pandemic, many of our IsraAID's activities in Kakuma have been put on pause, or adapted to comply with government regulations.

As of May 16th 2020, there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Kakuma refugee camp, however, restriction of movement of persons in and out the camp remains effective until at least the end of May. Additionally, residents are under a 7 pm - 5 am daily curfew (national directive by the Government of Kenya) and all movements in and out of the camp have been restricted to only essential services, and cargo. 

Support for vulnerable groups must be prioritized. For IsraAID, that means the refugees we work with, who live in often-overcrowded, under-resourced camps, with limited access to medical care and safe water.

These new regulations that encourage social distancing do not really work within the refugee camp context. If the virus were to spread to Kakuma, it would be very difficult to contain. Water, for instance, is only available from communal boreholes. It is the same story for picking up food distributions. Kakuma camp’s population cannot avoid gathering in public — it is how they get their essentials.

On top of the need to collect basic necessities like water and food, refugees in Kakuma have no access to hand sanitizer and, for some, even soap is in short supply. Without the income to purchase these hygiene products, they rely heavily on aid from UNHCR, further limiting the capacity to reduce the spread of coronavirus if it reaches the camp. 

IsraAID has been forced to halt its child-friendly services in order to limit exposure of the virus to children. While many organizations are now moving their work online, the population of Kakuma camp has limited access to the internet and most of our services involve heavy personal interaction. We have, therefore, had to be creative in how we provide our services when our usual facilities are closed, and many of the staff are working remotely. 

In terms of the daily life of the refugees we work with, this means that children will not have access to child protection services, and field staff and facilitators will be without work for an indefinite period of time. Our field teams, which are made up mostly of refugees from the community, have been raising awareness on COVID-19, hygiene promotion, and psychosocial support activities to parents and caregivers whose children are registered to our facilities. We have been reaching the families in Kakuma through phone calls, since most of our beneficiaries do not have regular access to the internet. We are also doing followup phone calls to ensure that the information has been understood fully, and shared among the family. This has really been helpful in addressing their concerns and offering psychosocial support. If necessary, we can also refer individuals to the relevant agencies for further support. 

We are also supporting partners through mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) coordination, working in groups to develop scripts for radio shows. These aim to help children deal with stress and anxiety during this period.

We look forward to re-opening our Child Friendly Spaces as soon as the authorities deem these activities safe. In the meantime, we are finding ways to keep working with these communities while the coronavirus-related limitations last.

Thank you for your support refugees in Kakuma during this especially challenging period. 


May 28, 2020

Improving Livelihoods During COVID-19

Communities around the world have been affected by the recent coronavirus pandemic, and the refugee community in Germany is no exception. 

Prior to the pandemic, IsraAID Germany was operating multiple leadership groups through the Kompass program. Through these groups, members were able to create micro-communities of refugees from different countries and cultures, coming together to create a generation of refugee leaders who are engaged in the wider society and investing their future into the local communities. These groups took the lessons that they learned through their previous development sessions, to be leaders in a country-wide COVID-19 assistance project. 

Members of the Kompass program have created and edited videos, which train other refugees involved with IsraAID how to create protective face masks. Following the creation of the video, work stations were put in place in Stuttgart, Berlin and Frankfurt, allowing for small teams of refugee volunteers to sew hundreds of protective face masks. These masks are being sent out to refugee shelters around the country, as well as Holocaust survivors, homeless people, and the elderly, making sure vulnerable people nationwide have access to protection. So far there have been 30 volunteers working on rotation, to ensure that we keep to social distancing guidelines. Recently the volunteers have been producing 150 masks a week, but soon this will be increased to 200. As the volunteers become more experienced and comfortable with the process, we are hoping the number of masks that the teams can produce will continue to increase steadily.

Whilst many services, shops, and community activities are temporarily shut, the IsraAID volunteers are not only able to use their time productively, but through producing the masks, they are providing access to society for so many other refugees. Masks have been made compulsory on public transport and in many stores, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. By IsrAID's Kompass leaders providing access to masks for vulnerable people around the country, these individuals are able to enter the supermarket, attend a religious service, or take a bus to a medical appointment. 

Thank you for your continued support of IsraAID. 

May 27, 2020

Supporting School Communities in Mexico

IsraAID has had a team in Mexico since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near Puebla in September 2017, just two weeks after the previous lethal earthquake in the area. The crisis caused hundreds of fatalities, and severe damage to multiple buildings and infrastructure including access to water, electricity and roads. Just days after the second earthquake hit, IsraAID sent a team for initial emergency response in the community. Since then, IsraAID Mexico has served tens of thousands of individuals through immediate response, and in long-term recovery and development programming. 

Due to its geographic location, Mexico is at a high risk of more disasters in the future. It has therefore been vital that IsraAID's work is not only in recovery and response to the most recent earthquakes, but also in increasing resilience in the case of future disasters. IsraAID has worked in hundreds of schools around the country to prepare the staff for future emergencies, as well as working with community leaders and parents to similarly be prepared in the home.

More specifically, IsraAID has developed a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) program which focused on providing training and socio-technical support to 20 public schools (kindergarten, elementary and high schools) in Morelos state. The DRR program integrates elements of mental health and psychosocial support; recommends preventative measures before, during and after an emergency situation; and provides structure to support the creation and education of a school safety plan. 

Due to the recent COVID-19 crisis and many schools closed, IsraAID Mexico's work has changed, but we are still able to support school communities through our Health and Hygiene program. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat of Comprehensive Risk Management & Civil Protection, IsraAID has developed a four-session workshop, as well as a guide, with practical steps on how to ensure a safe and healthy return to schools - once they are reopened.

Even when the schools do reopen, there may still be a risk of infection from the virus, so the program teaches the educational staff how to monitor water and hygiene practices in the school setting. There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 which causes confusion and can actually prevent people from taking the appropriate hygiene measures, so also included in the training is information about the virus to ensure that the education staff fully understands what the virus really means for them and their students. In our first live online workshop, we reached 91 people among school staff, supervisors and educational authorities. The aim is to reach all high schools in Mexico City. As we are taking a holistic approach, IsraAID is also providing classroom hygiene kits and school sanitation products. The online sessions are joined by local staff in Mexico, as well as our WASH coordinator in IsraAID's HQ in Israel.

Thank you for supporting our work in Mexico, especially during this especially challenging time.   

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