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May 18, 2020

Coronavirus and the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis

For almost a year, IsraAID’s team in Colombia has been responding to the ongoing Venezuelan displacement crisis. More than 5 million Venezuelans have left the country due to the worsening humanitarian situation. At least 1.8 million are in Colombia.IsraAID’s team — based in Barranquilla in the Caribbean region — works with Venezuelans, Colombian returnees, and the host community.

Colombia, like almost every other country in the world, is dealing with social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With refugees and other vulnerable populations left with limited access to resources, including education, psychosocial support, employment, and food, our team is working to respond to this rapidly shifting environment, seeking to fill the gaps created by this new normal. The pandemic risks making an already urgent humanitarian situation even worse.

Before coronavirus, our team provided educational and psychosocial support services to about 100 children, including refugees and Colombian returnees from Venezuela, and members of the host community here in Barranquilla, each day. IsraAID’s Child-Friendly Spaces serve as a touchpoint for community work, investing deeply in each child’s resilience, development, and potential to become a leader. During regular operations, IsraAID’s two Child Friendly Spaces provide two daily meals to the children who attend — but now, these children are left even more vulnerable than they were before. These were the main meals of the day for many of these children, whose parents have now been left without an income. Seeking to fill this gap, we are distributing food baskets for families who need this support.

Fewer jobs, and therefore resources, also means that stress skyrockets. Kids notice when their parents are stressed, and too often adults don’t realize that providing stress relief activities for their children can actually offer a similar release for themselves as well. Lockdown also makes it likely that we will see an increase in the number of cases of sexual and gender-based violence, like domestic and child abuse. These were issues before COVID-19 drastically shifted the reality on the ground, but, today, we’re even more concerned.

With these issues in mind, we are being creative in how we provide communities with access to psychosocial support programming in a socially distant way. We delivered resilience kits to 50 households, reaching some 250 beneficiaries. These kits include expressive art materials, educational resources, hygiene items like soap and hand sanitizer, and key messaging to combat misinformation on how COVID-19 is spread and what families can do to keep themselves safe. We’ve distributed and shared pamphlets with key self-care tips and activities that parents and children can do together. We’re leading online activities — such as Zumba classes — and encouraging families who can share their internet access with neighbors who may not be able to attend and connect with others.

Thank you for supporting our projects during this especially challenging time.

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May 4, 2020

Increasing Community Resilience in Houston, Texas

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey - a Category 4 hurricane, and the wettest tropical cyclone on record - hit the United States. Floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displacing more than 30,000 people and prompting more than 17,000 rescues. The total damage from the hurricane is estimated at $125 billion. Throughout Texas, approximately 336,000 people were left without electricity and tens of thousands needed rescue. 103 people died in storm-related incidents: 68 from its direct effects, including flooding, and 35 indirectly in the hurricane's aftermath. 

In coordination with different US-based partners, an initial IsraAID team arrived in Houston on August 29th to respond to household and community needs caused by the storm, as well as needs arising in Houston and the surrounding area’s shelters. Due to the urgency of needs and devastation, assessments were done in conjunction with activities. The team included first responders and a mental health expert. IsraAID worked with different partners including Jewish community organizations, TexasSAR, the Gulf Meadow Church and Team Rubicon to identify the needs and the most vulnerable cases which the team could support.  Our aim was to target shelters that needed mental health experts and identify families that could benefit from our assistance. 

Following 4 months of fieldwork in lower-income communities conducting debris removal, mucking and gutting, mold remediation, and emotional support for affected household members, an assessment led to a participatory initiative aiming to map communities based on their vulnerabilities and assets. The initial program emphasized the gaps in responding to emergencies in their communities, based on the experience during Hurricane Harvey, and looking forward to future potential disasters. 

As a result, two years following the hurricane, the need for a community-based mechanism to deal with emergencies has been identified and a plan was launched. Currently, this coalition of community organizations seeks to provide community-wide preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts for any future events. By involving different organizations and institutions in the community throughout the various stages of an emergency, community assets will be utilized and shared, leading to increased community agency in the context of emergencies, and hopefully, the ability to assist neighboring communities.

Before exiting the community, IsraAID created and presented a report to all relevant community partners in the field. This was based on the work already done in the community, and our recommendations were based on key findings during interviews with the Federation and their associated organizations. Each organization was provided with specific recommendations that matched their individual needs and capabilities, including actions points regarding knowledge sharing, improving coordination, increased collaborative use of services, and bolstering employee support infrastructure to "help the helper."

This collaboration and knowledge sharing process will bolster the internal preparedness capacity toward response for the organizations and different groups within the community. This will help the community to rely on each other in case of emergencies.

Thank you for your continued support throughout IsraAID's work in Houston.

Apr 28, 2020

Access to Education Amid Coronavirus

The Bahamas was hit by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, claiming the lives of at least 70 people and causing some $3.4 billion in damage. Seawater surges contaminated the wells, leaving these previously safe water sources with extremely high levels of salination. With buildings and homes severely damaged, schools were closed, leaving children and their families without a daily routine and no safe spaces to play. Locals experienced a sharp shortage in supplies ranging from food to cleaning products to hygiene items.

IsraAID launched an emergency response mission to support affected communities. On New Providence, IsraAID’s Protection Team worked in the capital city, Nassau, supporting the influx of evacuees relocated to shelters from their homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama. To provide a daily space for children to play, learn, and grow IsraAID’s Protection Specialists set up Child-Friendly Spaces on Abaco and Grand Bahama. We recruited and trained local volunteers to facilitate these spaces, focusing on key Psychosocial tools to support children in times of uncertainty and chaos. In order to address limited access to safe water and other basic supplies, the IsraAID team established water distribution points for locals and a warehouse to provide emergency items to the community.

COVID-19 EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Since the beginning of the spread of the deadly Coronavirus in January 2020, the disease has claimed the lives and infected hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The World Health Organization declared a  pandemic on March 11. There are currently at least 64 cases of COVID-19, with 8 deaths, in the Bahamas.

With mass quarantine, canceled travel, and a disrupted lifestyle across the globe, IsraAID’s teams are working to help respond to this most recent public health challenge. The need to isolate the infected and those potentially infected can break down the social ties and connections that are acutely needed in times of crisis, both for logistical preparation and response purposes, but also for our emotional wellbeing.

Vulnerable communities are at even higher risk. Without access to regular services, populations still working to
recover from earlier disasters are facing additional difficulties in obtaining the support they need. The current marked shift back to crisis mode can be extremely difficult, particularly for children. With communities still working to overcome the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian, people are at high risk for the rapid spread of disease. This could cause a secondary crisis, exacerbating humanitarian needs. Although our programs have been put on hold due to government restrictions, we are committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.

Supporting children’s psychosocial needs: Although IsraAID’s nine Child-Friendly Spaces have been temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team continues to provide children with an outlet in these difficult times using remote/online initiatives. With many other routine activities canceled, and amid rising anxiety ahead of hurricane season’s arrival, it is essential that children can maintain their routines and attend facilitated expressive sessions to build their resilience. Programming also addresses hygiene promotion, quarantine preparation, and expanding children’s coping mechanisms in times of stress.

With school closure since March 15th and limited access to electricity or the internet, IsraAID is working to supply child-safe data-enabled tablets, solar chargers, and data packages to provide the necessary platform for Abaco children and other displaced children in the Bahamas to continue their education online. To complement the distribution IsraAID is providing pamphlets for the children’s parents about the usage of the tablets and the Virtual School, cyber safety, psychosocial support, hygiene promotion, and Covid-19 background information.

Thank you for your support during this global crisis!

 
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