Jul 15, 2021

"This was the best day I've had in a long time"

Manuela received COVID-19 emergency aid by Caritas
Manuela received COVID-19 emergency aid by Caritas

“Things have never been as bad for me as they are now”

When Austria came to a sudden standstill in March 2020, many people in the country found themselves in emergency situations. Manuela, a single mother from Salzburg, was also desperate - until she turned to Caritas.

Manuela had been working throughout her life – first as a hairdresser and then in tourism for many years. Before the first lockdown, the single mother of a daughter had two part-time jobs – as a waitress in a guesthouse in the morning, and in a ski lodge in the evening. She was making a good living and had no financial worries. The lockdown, however, changed everything. The guesthouse and the ski lodge had to close, and Manuela lost both of her jobs from one day to the next.

“Things have never been as bad for me as they are now. I’ve been unemployed since the end of August 2020, and meanwhile I’m receiving emergency assistance. Not only is my salary missing, but of course also the tips, which make up a large part of my earnings. The alimony for my daughter comes in only irregularly. It’s demoralizing and stressful. I managed to pay the fixed costs, but then – in the dead of winter – my heating pump broke down and I just couldn’t afford to have it repaired.”

“This was the best day I’ve had in a long time”

The repair was not affordable with less than 1,000 euros a month that Manuela currently has at her disposal for herself and her daughter. So Manuela sought help from Caritas Salzburg: “This was the best day I’ve had in a long time. I received two food packages from Caritas and some financial support on top of that. That was such a relief. I was able to get my heating fixed with the money.”

Similar to so many people, Manuela would have never imagined getting into this kind of situation and having to ask for help: “I would never have believed that something like this could happen to me. My father supports me as much as he can. At one point, however, that was no longer possible. The best advice I can give to anyone is to overcome the shame and accept help.”

Today, Manuela looks forward to the future with cautious optimism. She has a promise for a job as soon as the restaurant can reopen: “I am a positive person, a fighter. But I hope this will be over soon.”

Corona emergency aid has prevented the worst for many

When it was announced in March 2020 that Austria would be "shut down" and only system-maintaining infrastructure would remain open, it quickly became clear to Caritas that we would have to greatly expand our assistance services for people in Austria - even for those who would never have expected to need Caritas assistance themselves:

  • Caritas set up the Corona emergency help hotline at the very beginning of the pandemic. People who are in acute financial crises and do not know how to pay the rent or make their next grocery purchase can call +43 05/1776-300 for rapid and unbureaucratic help and advice.
  • In Vienna, for example, additional emergency shelters for homeless people were set up, some of which were also open during the day during the lockdown.
  • Numerous emergency food distributions and home deliveries were organized. Emergency financial assistance for rents, electricity and heating costs was expanded.
  • In Upper Austria, around 1,260 adults and children received help in the form of cash and food assistance.
  • In Salzburg, 4,000 food parcels were distributed and 7,500 overnight stays in emergency sleeping facilities were made possible.

Even if the health crisis caused by Corona seems to be gradually over, the social and financial effects of the Corona crisis will continue to burden people for a long time - especially the most vulnerable in our society.

For those people who turn to Caritas' 53 social counseling centers, it's often about the most basic necessities: food, energy and rent costs. It's about being able to cope with childcare costs or being safe after a separation or domestic violence. It's about not looking away now, but continuing to stick together.

Thank you for your ongoing support for people in need in these challenging times.

4,000 food packages were distributed in Salzburg
4,000 food packages were distributed in Salzburg

Links:

Jun 1, 2021

Covid-19 and the impact on the Caritas Lerncafes

Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas

Like all educational institutions, the Caritas Lerncafés had to close down during the lockdown measures in Austria most of the time during 2020 as well as the beginning of 2021. Physical learning with the children and young people was not possible over most of the time. However, the staff and volunteers of the Lerncafés quickly adapted and found alternatives in order to stay close to the students despite social distancing measures. The clear goal was to continue the support for children and adolescents facing absolute unprecedented times.

The dedicated Lerncafé colleagues were available to the children and parents at all times by phone, email or other digital media tools (e.g. Zoom, etc.). Some Lerncafés have arranged fixed learning appointments with the children by phone and were in regular contact to solve learning tasks together and to work out new learning methods. The telephone was an important communication tool, as not all children had a laptop or an internet connection and therefore found it particularly difficult to cope with the demands of home schooling. Some Lerncafés also created support folders for sensory perception training, as this area should also continue to be supported in addition to the school requirements.

Beautiful successes in challenging times

In 2020 about 2000 children and adolescents were supported at 56 Caritas Lerncafés all over Austria. Despite all the challenges with school closures and home schooling, remote support for the Lerncafé kids proved to be highly successful – and welcomed by our students. In total 96% of the Lerncafé participants successfully completed the respective school level and could advance to the next class. More than 950 volunteers supported the employees at the Caritas Lerncafés.

How big the demand for such free learning support really is in Austria can be seen on the waiting list for free Lerncafé places. Currently almost 1000 children and youth are desperately waiting to receive learning support within the Caritas Lerncafés.

What does the Lerncafé support mean for children

An 11-year-old Syrian girl has been in Austria for about a year. She attends grade 1 of a NMS (new middle school) and has been in a Lerncafé in St. Pölten since spring 2020. The language barriers of the child and the parents were very big at the beginning. The parents described the girl as very inquisitive and as one who learns very easily. As the girl had very little German language at the beginning, the team hoped that they could help her in the Lerncafés and that the communication between the learning facilitators and the child would be reasonably successful. To achieve that the Lerncafé included a trained DAF teacher (DAF = Deutsch als Fremdsprache; German as foreign language) as a volunteer who was able to support the child well in her learning. They not only worked intensively on homework together, but also went through certain DAF topics week by week. The volunteer even took private practice utensils for the girl to the learning café. The girl was extremely inquisitive, very motivated and ambitious - she often asked questions and always made sure she did the tasks correctly. She talked a lot with the Lerncafé team and the children and also regularly asked them if she was pronouncing words correctly, what article the noun had and what certain things were called. She often emphasized that she would like to speak even better German and constantly asked for practice sheets for home. Thanks to the great commitment of the volunteers and the ambition of the child, immense learning progress was quickly achieved. In the meantime, she can conjugate verbs in all tenses – after almost not being able to communicate in German at all one year ago. The girl's parents are also very eager to learn German quickly and well and are very grateful for the support in the Lerncafé.

Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Remote support at the Lerncafes (c)Caritas
Covid measures at the Lerncafe (c)Caritas
Covid measures at the Lerncafe (c)Caritas

Links:

Mar 17, 2021

Poverty has arrived in the middle of society

Food distribution (c)Caritas_Christian Leitner
Food distribution (c)Caritas_Christian Leitner

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, more and more people who never would have thought it possible have turned to Caritas. Corona has finally brought poverty to the center of society, says Michael Landau, President of Caritas Austria: "Many people who were able to provide for themselves well before the pandemic now fear for their livelihoods and are increasingly turning to Caritas for help. One million people are unemployed or on short-time work. We are experiencing a health crisis, but also an economic and social crisis, an educational and psychosocial crisis. We need to look at those who are having a particularly hard time now."

Unemployment and short-time work in particular are affecting many people, especially single parent households and large families. Two-thirds of the people visiting the Caritas social counseling centers are people with children, and a disproportionately large number of them are single parents, but also new self-employed people or one-person entrepreneurs. These are people whose incomes have been cut off by the crisis and who don't know how to pay rents or energy bills.

Direct support from Caritas in Austria

Most of Caritas’ Corona emergency aid is distributed through the 53 Austria-wide social counselling centers. They are the first point of contact for people affected by poverty, where they can receive concrete help in the form of financial assistance for covering rent or energy costs, support with the costs of schooling for their children, or, in a very pragmatic way, find out where the nearest Caritas food distribution point is. Additionally, in Upper Austria alone, around 1,260 adults and children received help in the form of cash and food assistance in 2020. In Salzburg, 4,000 food parcels (totalling 70tonns of food) were distributed and 7,500 additional overnight stays in emergency sleeping facilities were made possible. Further many Caritas emergency shelters for homeless people opened their doors 24 hours a day, providing a safe and protected place for people without shelter during the pandemic.

Our solidarity needs a long breath

"The health crisis of today must not become more and more the social crisis of tomorrow," appealed Caritas Austria and Caritas Europa President Michael Landau already in 2020. Looking at the increasing numbers of people contacting asking for Caritas support for the first time in their lives, that appeal still rings true.

The last twelve months have made it clear that our help requires a lot of patience and solidarity, because the virus and much more its consequences will keep us busy for even longer. We are not talking about days or weeks, but about months and years. We are not only talking about people who were already in crisis before the pandemic, but also about those who stood in the middle of society and are now facing new hardships.

I thank you for your support for people in need in these challenging times.

Food distribution (c)Caritas_Reiner Riedler
Food distribution (c)Caritas_Reiner Riedler
Food distribution2 (c)Caritas_Reiner Riedler
Food distribution2 (c)Caritas_Reiner Riedler

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