The people we serve have the best ideas for how to solve this…
At Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee), community connection is at the heart of what we do. We believe that everyone has a gift to give. That we live in an abundant world, filled with amazing people who want to help. And that the people in the very communities we serve have the best ideas to change their world for the better.
As the coronavirus crisis has unfolded, people everywhere are taking steps to protect one another. The same is true for people living in refugee camps. They know their families, friends, and neighbors are particularly at risk—and they’re standing strong in support of each other.
That’s why, as Alight teams face the threat of COVID-19 in refugee camps around the world, we’re turning to the communities where we work. We’re listening to their ideas, amplifying their talent, and working side by side with them to channel their creative energy, as together we help refugee communities brace for impact.
One of those communities is Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. Nakivale is 100,000 people strong, and home to people from over 13 different countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. As one of the longest standing refugee settlements in the world, Nakivale feels a little more like a town than a refugee camp. And the confluence of cultures makes for an energizing and creative environment, bursting with ideas.
Now, in the face of this crisis, the Nakivale community is stepping up, sustaining itself in preparation for COVID-19.
Kuja Kuja: Do You Have an Idea?
For years, Alight has been the lead implementing partner organization for Protection Services in Nakivale (and six additional settlements across Uganda), partnering with the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda, UNHCR, and the U.S. Government. We have a responsibility for the well-being, safety, and protection of all residents who live there, including newly arrived refugees who are introduced to the settlement through its reception centers.
But more than just an NGO, we are a neighbor and co-creator within the Nakivale community. And one of the ways we get a pulse on the ideas and opinions of Nakivale’s residents is through our customer service platform, Kuja Kuja. As part of the Kuja Kuja platform—during a pandemic or not—we ask one simple question…do you have an idea?
This human-centered approach not only puts the power back in our customers’ hands, it also means we have an accurate picture of people’s ideas, even in times of restricted movement. We’re learning in real-time what our customers need, what information and support they want, and their suggestions to help stop the spread of COVID-19. And there is no shortage of ideas —we’ve collected hundreds over the last few weeks. As our teams shape and lead their coronavirus response, we’re using those ideas to take action that’s grounded in the creativity, talent, and knowledge of Nakivale’s residents.
Co-Leading a Community Response to COVID-19
Our coronavirus response is mainly concentrated in the Rubondo neighborhood of Nakivale, which houses many of the newest arrivals to the settlement, and at the nearby reception center, which currently hosts 1,000 new arrivals. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the refugee settlement was receiving an average of 700 new refugees from Congo every week. Now, with energies directed toward preventing the spread of COVID-19, their transition to living full-time in the settlement has been delayed.
With the generous support of To.org, we’re co-leading with grassroots organizations in Nakivale like Wakati Foundation and Opportunigee to help newly arrived refugees in Rubondo and the reception center get the things, information, and support they need to weather the crisis.
As a co-implementing partner, we’re working alongside them to help lift makers in the Nakivale community. These makers are producing items that are now difficult to obtain everywhere, things like face masks, hands-free handwashing stations, and producing liquid soap. They’re sewing, constructing, and selling these items, providing both a sustaining livelihood for themselves and getting the community access to much-needed resources.
We’re also helping a womens’ collective in Rubondo make bar soap, which can be used for both clothes and hand-washing, making it a popular option. And, since having soap on hand is critical to coronavirus prevention in refugee camps and out, making it readily available for these particularly vulnerable communities might prove to be a life-saving resource.
“It’s a very big opportunity that often gets overlooked,” says Alissa Jordan, who is helping coordinate the response as Alight’s Global Activations Lead. “Every one of us wants to help our own community during this time, and that’s no different in a refugee camp. There are so many talented and skilled people who can do something here.”
Information Is Key to Coronavirus Prevention and Protection
Like everywhere in the world, having accurate, up to date, and relevant information is key to stopping the spread of the pandemic. This can be especially challenging in a refugee camp setting, where not everyone has internet access and where isolation is sometimes keenly felt.
To help increase the flow of accurate information and preparedness to Nakivale, we’re preparing to train Nakivale’s community workers in virtual micro-trainings, which we’ve already launched with Catholic Sisters around the world. Dr. Terence, an Infectious Disease Specialist and a part of Alight’s Myanmar team, is leading the virtual trainings, where he shares key information on preventative measures and helps create a customized plan based on what he hears on the call.
Alongside IDEO.org and Nakivale community members, we’ve also co-created resonant, clear and easily digestible public health messaging based on key information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These messages are designed for digital distribution via WhatsApp and Facebook (which are most commonly used in Nakivale) and translated into local languages. We’ve created stickers, branded water containers, and latrines, too, meeting the community where they’re at and combating misinformation about the virus.
We’re in This Together
Stopping the spread of the coronavirus is in our hands. This is the moment to join together, to keep each other safe, to protect our most vulnerable, and to spread kindness. And in Nakivale, that starts with residents who know best what they need, and how they might help.
“A huge part of what we believe as Alight is seeing that abundance in the community, that potential,” says Alissa. “We’re working to build capacity for that so we can help make it a reality.”
Want to know how you can aid in our global coronavirus response efforts? Reach out today to learn more—there are so many ways you can help us make a difference.