Partnering with Catholic Sisters to fight COVID-19 Around the Globe
Did you know there’s a network of 642,000 Catholic Sisters around the world, many of them on the frontlines of COVID-19? Nuns have a long history of standing alongside some of the most vulnerable communities during times of great need, doing the doable to protect them as fiercely as they can. Recognizing the unique power of this Sisterhood, we began our work with Sisters in El Salvador and at the border in 2018 under the Color Movement initiative. Now, in this unprecedented moment, we’re helping them protect the people they serve all over the world. And, we’re working to keep them safe through virtual emergency planning sessions and trainings – so they can keep going.
Alight is non-sectarian. But we know incredible humanitarians when we see them, and Catholic Sisters wrote the book. When we first began to partner with Sisters in Latin America, we saw firsthand the unique position they hold in the communities they serve – as trusted, beloved, human-centered, and critical providers. But what we also saw was that, perhaps surprisingly, they were often severely under-resourced and unconnected from each other. We thought we could help change that.
First Responders: Women on the Frontlines of COVID-19 Response
Fighting COVID-19 Virtually
As the situation with the virus worsened, we turned to the Sisters we already knew in El Salvador and at the U.S.-Mexico border, but also to our partner Sisters in the U.S. at Sisters Rising Worldwide. Through their networks, we were then connected – virtually, through Zoom – to dozens of Sisters from all over the world. And we started asking questions. What do they need most as their work shifted to COVID-19 prevention? What do their communities need? What are their communities asking for? And how can we help?
When we started talking with sisters, their communities were getting lots of conflicting messages about the virus. The sisters were feeling afraid, anxious, alone and unsupported. And they wanted to do more to care for their communities. But many of them were social workers or educators, and they didn’t have the tools to do it.
We got Alight medical advisors and doctors on the case, who jumped on board and have been working with Catholic sisters through Zoom and WhatsApp, building emergency planning strategies and getting sisters any extra training they may need. In the last few weeks alone, we’ve connected with Sisters in 28 countries – including India, Zambia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, India, Nigeria, and El Salvador – and have held Zoom training and planning sessions in 20 of them.
Catholic Sisters are also expressing a need for more community with their Sisterhood worldwide, especially in light of isolation and social distancing. We wanted to help…So we hosted a call with 63 Sisters from over 16 different countries on a Sisters Sharing Worldwide Zoom! We asked how Sisters were finding strength during this time, and Sister Emma from Zambia shared that her connection to Sisters is giving her strength.
“The solidarity that is here is amazing,” she said. “We are connected from all over the world. For us, this is really encouraging to be here with all of you. We are not alone in this, we are united with people worldwide.”
This is just the start – we plan to hold more virtual Sisterhood meetings, connecting these tireless women across the globe to each other, and finding strength, hope, and solidarity in the process.
Getting the Message Out
We’re also providing Sisters with health messaging they can share with their communities via WhatsApp or other platforms, a critical need voiced by many of the Sisters who are combating misinformation and confusion. So, even if they live in a community under total lockdown, the sisters can help keep their people safe.
We have developed 10 core messages based on WHO recommendations and guidelines, with variations and language translation appropriate for each context. These include rules for handwashing, how to successfully social distance, symptoms of COVID-19 and what to watch out for, how COVID-19 is spread, how to mitigate the spread of symptoms (like coughing into your elbow and avoiding touching your face), the importance of staying home, avoiding handshaking, and more. The messaging will also work to bust myths surrounding the virus.
Getting these messages into the hands of the Sisters is one of the things they’ve been asking about most – they need the tools to stop the spread of misinformation. With these messaging toolkits, we can help them do just that.
More Resources, More Power to Fight Coronavirus
“We are now in total lockdown, but the Sisters are still going to see the people in the streets, one by one.” – Sister Rosey, India
If Sisters need additional resources to get their communities prepared – supplies like soap or enough food to make it through a lockdown – we’re helping with that, too.
Sister Cynthia in Bihar, India, told us that she most needs during the pandemic is food security support for the people she and her Sisters serve: the daily laborers in their community who are now out of a job. We decided to step in, and with some emergency funding, they were able to feed 200 families in their community. They’re also sharing the COVID-19 health messaging with the families of girl students they’re teaching through their Facebook page.
Sister Ruth and her congregation in Kenya run a pharmacy, clinic, and x-ray scanning center, often working to treat and diagnose children in their community. She told us they needed more scrubs and N-95 masks for staff working in the clinics. We channeled the funds to get them the support they needed, and now the team is better protecting themselves, and their patients.
Sister Astridah and her fellow Sisters in Zambia voiced a need to get their communities the basics in COVID-19 prevention: things like gloves, handwashing stations, soap, and masks. That’s where we stepped in. Now, they’re out distributing the items to the most at-risk families and individuals under their care.
Join the Sisterhood: You Can Help Alight Battle COVID-19
Now more than ever, we need to view humanity as a whole—rather than as separate countries on a map. The Sisters are already pros at this, and we’re following their lead.
There are many ways you can assist our coronavirus relief efforts with Sisters, in refugee camps, and in marginalized communities around the globe. If you have any questions about Alight or our programs, don’t hesitate to contact us.
You can make a donation here to support Alight’s work fighting COVID-19.