Stepping up in a time of crisis…
For years now, our work in Pakistan has been all about getting kids back in the classroom. There are millions of out-of-school kids in the country—children who have either dropped out of school, live in remote areas, or who can’t afford school fees. So far, we’ve enrolled over 800,000 previously out-of-school kids, creating new opportunities for families to better access and afford education that works for them.
But when COVID-19 hit, everything was put on hold. Like the rest of the world, kids needed to stay home. Classes were cancelled. All of the children who had just gotten back into the classroom were now back out. It was a precarious moment—next steps were unclear.
Our Alight team in Pakistan sat down (virtually!) to do a little soul searching. They talked about how detrimental this gap in education could be for all the children who had made so much progress, and how they might work to alleviate that gap. And, they asked, can we respond as humanitarians to this urgent and growing crisis?
Before COVID-19, Alight Pakistan had a sole mission—education. We were not operating protection programs, camp management, healthcare, water and sanitation, or some of the other activities that Alight manages in other parts of the world. Our teams were made up of teachers, literacy mobilizers, and program managers who oversaw education programming. And now our staff members were sitting at home.
So as a team, Alight Pakistan made a decision—to see how they could help. To do what is possible, to do the doable, to put their humanitarianism first. To try to be a part of the broader Pakistan response to COVID-19. And from that day forward, they considered themselves coronavirus emergency responders. Everyone was on board.
Learning Doesn’t Stop
Even though the team knew that students and teachers couldn’t physically gather for now, they didn’t want to let education slip away for so many who were just beginning to get it back on track. So they focused on distance learning, thinking of ways to reach kids now at home. They put their heads together and came up with something different—a radio education program.
Called Muallim radio, now kids throughout the country can access education programming, developed for grades one through three. And all of the lessons are available on YouTube as well, reaching kids who have easier access to the internet and a computer. These radio programs and YouTube videos make it so that parents can easily direct their kids’ attention to the lessons—and kids can tune in whenever works best for them.
Coronavirus Protection Is Key
In March and early April, there was a serious shortage of medical supplies in Pakistan. The team knew that if they were to act as frontline responders to coronavirus, they needed to make sure that both our staff and healthcare professionals had the tools they needed to stay safe. So they first conducted a survey to determine what was needed and whether people’s families had been impacted. They then gathered hand sanitizer, masks, and more under the Alight brand and distributed them widely. Teams are keeping an eye on the needs, and responding in kind.
Pakistan Prevention Campaign
Like other parts of the world where Alight works, like Somalia, Uganda, and Southeast Asia, in Pakistan a huge chunk of COVID-19 response is all about prevention. And, like many places, there are persistent myths and information that is confusing—people are asking for accurate and trusted information about the virus.
So our Pakistan teams took to the radio, to TV, and to social media to start a prevention awareness campaign. “If we can’t put out the fire, let’s protect people from the fire,” said Tariq Cheema, Alight Pakistan’s Country Director.
And that’s just what they did. They broadcasted COVID-19 prevention messages through the radio first in Calcutta and Balochistan, then Islamabad, reaching over 2 million people. The team also began a text message campaign—their prevention texts reached 1.2 million people alone.
On social media, the team promoted Alight’s In Our Hands campaign, getting TV and radio personalities, athletes, partner organizations and community leaders on board to spread the message. Their efforts resulted in recruiting a whopping 81 social media influencers in the country, reaching a combined 25 million people—and counting!
Keeping People Safe with Humanitarian Aid
One serious crisis facing the country during the coronavirus pandemic is the impact on day laborers—due to increased restrictions, their work has been put on hold. And, as a result, the wages they rely on to support their families have been cut off. So working with government and local partners, we organized a food distribution, reaching 2,500 vulnerable families who were struggling to support themselves through the crisis.
Moving Forward—Continuing to Fight Coronavirus
There’s still so much more to do, and so many opportunities to help. In the pipeline is a telehealth center in one of the districts where Alight works. The center would offer virtual health appointments and mental health support, working to provide care even while distanced.
The team also knows sometime in the future, classes will resume. Teachers will be back at the blackboard. Kids will be filing into their seats, backpacks and books in hand. So the Pakistan team is preparing for this, too, working with funders to adjust their support and prepare for the future, so that as soon as the country is ready, they’ll be right there with them.
You’re a Humanitarian, Too
Stopping the spread of the coronavirus in Southeast Asia and beyond is in our hands. This is the moment to join together, to keep each other safe, and to protect our most vulnerable.
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.