Creative’s Latin American and Caribbean projects respond to COVID-19

Janey Fugate

April 2, 2020

For more information and updates about Creative and our programs’ response to COVID-19, click here.

With coronavirus cases increasing in Latin America and the Caribbean, Creative and its partners are looking for safe, responsible ways to serve clients and communities amidst unprecedented circumstances. Preventative measures are crucial to avoid worse outcomes in a region with burdened healthcare systems, poor infrastructure in rural areas and weak economies, experts say.

Creative-implemented projects are supporting our local partners and using their teams’ intimate knowledge of local contexts to promote resilience and continue its mission for global development. Here is a look at some initial ways field teams are continuing to implement activities that communities need, while both adapting to and mitigating new risks posed by the pandemic.

Honduras: A network dedicated to youth’s rights responds to COVID-19

In Honduras, an association of professionals created and supported by the USAID-funded violence prevention program Proponte Más is responding to COVID-19 by leveraging its network and connections in at-risk communities. Though Proponte Más has been winding down its family counseling and juvenile justice system reform activities during the past several months and preparing local partners for its close out, the professional network has remained active and responsive to the pandemic.

These professionals, who all touch Honduran youth through their work, have stepped up their efforts to support communities in San Pedro Sula by volunteering with the local authorities and community leaders to distribute food. Areas like Rivera Hernandez, a dangerous and impoverished neighborhood where governmental and institutional support is already lacking, will be particularly hit by the economy’s downturn and other restrictions related to COVID-19. The network is currently liaising with the private sector to solicit more donations for families in need in Rivera Hernandez and elsewhere.

“The professional network in San Pedro Sula is organizing to ask for donations from the private sector to support the local community leaders who are providing supplies to those most in need,” said Wendy Gonzalez, a former family counselor for Proponte Más. “The network is proving that it is adaptable, resourceful and dedicated to serving any way it can.”

Law enforcement and community leaders help provide relief to residents in Rivera Hernandez, San Pedro Sula.

Abiding by the World Health Organization’s guidelines to stay indoors and maintain physical distance, the group helped coordinate these efforts via WhatsApp messages with community leaders they know through their work in the communities, as well as with officials both in law enforcement and with the Center for Municipal Emergencies. They have also used these chat groups to disseminate public awareness campaigns from UNICEF Honduras to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Comprised of a range of professionals, from judges to psychologists, the professional network’s efforts during the crisis are a testament to the sustainability of this initiative and its efficacy.

Honduras: Support for the fragile communities in the Dry Corridor

The Dry Corridor, one of the most climate-fragile regions in the world, could become particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, experts say. Since thorough hand washing is the best way to slow its spread, the New York Times reported that in places where water is scarce like in parts of Honduras, the virus could spread quicker.

The Dry Corridor Alliance project, which is funded by INVEST-Honduras and implemented by Creative, aims to enhance smallholder farmers’ productive capacity, address child malnutrition and build resilience for 6,000 households in 12 municipalities. Through its nutrition and hygiene education programs, the project has the opportunity to communicate important messages about slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the communities where it works, and is currently developing a map of resources to share with communities. In a particularly vulnerable region, the field team is now remotely from their homes, abiding by Honduras’s nationwide mandate and 24 hour curfew.

Water collection systems store water to irrigate crops during the prolonged dry season. Photo by Skip Brown.

Guatemala: Knowledge of local languages helps get messages to indigenous communities

The Peacebuilding Project in Guatemala addresses conflict related to natural resources, land rights, governance, and youth, gender and families, relying on community facilitators to build relationships in rural, often remote environments. The facilitators work in vulnerable communities that already have limited access to government services and who depend on an informal economy, making the COVID-19 crisis an even greater threat. A wide-scale health crisis could exacerbate underlying conflicts and cause new ones. But even as Guatemala has instituted strict lockdown measures and mandated a nationwide curfew, the community facilitators are finding innovative ways to continue to build social cohesion.

From their homes, the facilitators are working to strengthen relationships with community leaders and authorities through WhatsApp and phone calls. The facilitators have focused their communications to primarily engage with youth groups and community leaders and members to understand the evolving situation in their contexts, accompanying them as they participate in their own communities’ response to COVID-19.

In a typical home visit before the pandemic, community facilitators meet with several indigenous leaders in Totonicapán. Photo by Janey Fugate.

As new challenges arise from the pandemic, the community facilitators’ presence will continue to be important in mitigating potential disputes and ensuring the right information is communicated. What the facilitators are learning about how these communities respond in emergency situations and what challenges arise will also inform the “community visions” the project is working to develop. Intended to offer communities a roadmap to resolving their own conflicts and accelerating their own development, these documents are one of the project’s key objectives and will now involve risk management.

An area of potential dispute coming to light during the pandemic is the Western Highlands’ high rates of migration, both external and internal. Deportees and seasonal farm laborers who can no longer work are coming back to some of these rural, more isolated communities. Since the authorities’ focus is on preventing the virus from reaching these areas, the facilitators have reported some conflicts arising in communities seeing an influx of returned migrants. With added stressors like the migration situation in mind, the facilitators will continue to conduct conflict analysis, with a focus on the COVID-19 crisis and any potential for an increase in conflict and violence if the infection rate rises.

At a broader level, the Peacebuilding Project has also met and coordinated with government representatives, members of the private sector, and civil society organizations involved in violence prevention and conflict resolution initiatives to disseminate messaging around COVID-19 for indigenous communities. In many areas where the project works, Spanish is the people’s second language. The community facilitators’ fluency in the local languages Mam and K’iche will continue to be a major asset during the crisis as messages are disseminated to their networks about the pandemic. In this way, the project can keep building connections between the communities and relevant government agencies to better support them in the pandemic. In addition to messages about coronavirus, the project will share messages about inter-familial conflict, gender-based violence, and child abuse, providing information on resources and how to access support, which is an ongoing project objective.

Dusk sets in one of the communities where the Peacebuilding Project works: Comitancillo, Guatemala. Photo by Janey Fugate.

Saint Lucia: Family counseling and support to youth in the Caribbean adapts

The USAID-funded Community Family and Youth Resilience (CFYR) Program, which works in Guyana, Saint Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis, is actively seeking ways to continue supporting youth and families during the COVID-19 crisis through one of its core interventions, “Family Matters.” The family counseling model works with youth to lower their risk of engaging in crime and violence.

Counseling sessions will now be moved fully online, using internet platforms or the phone. Counselors in all three focus countries will also look for opportunities to connect families with local government resources and services to help them cope with any new challenges they may be facing due to the crisis.

With the region’s economy largely reliant on tourism and other service-related industries, the closing of hotels and travel bans will mean that many of the young men and women the project has supported with job trainings and employment may lose their jobs. The project is actively looking at ways to engage youth via online platforms to collaborate on how best to support them. For youth who were involved in workforce programs, engaged in our after-school programs and for our Community Enhancement Committee members, CFYR staff is working to create some virtual sessions to maintain their engagement and support them.


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