How do we protect the most vulnerable among us when the whole world is at risk?
That’s the question Alight teams around the world have been asking over the past several weeks and months. All across the globe, they’re preparing to defend refugees and displaced people against COVID-19.
How Coronavirus Is Affecting Life in Refugee Camps
Refugee camps face a unique set of challenges in this pandemic. Most camps offer clean water collection points, where dozens of people gather at a time. Staff often live in or nearby the camps themselves in dormitory-like settings. Markets are crowded, with people squeezing by to navigate around each other. Access to healthcare is limited, and it’s not as if families can stock up on frozen foods to avoid multiple trips to the market. Enacting social distancing practices looks different for communities that don’t have online delivery options, curbside pickup, or the ability to work from home.
But like everywhere else in the world, social distancing is essential to helping stop the spread of the coronavirus. So now, Alight teams are leading the way, helping set a camp-wide example on the importance of social distancing, and reshaping how refugee camps operate—in order to keep everyone safe.
COVID-19 Prevention: What Does Social Distancing Look Like in a Refugee Camp?
At Alight, formerly known as the American Refugee Committee, we believe in doing the doable. So from Somalia, to Uganda, to Rwanda and beyond, Alight teams are changing the way they do business, one doable step at a time. At clinic waiting areas, patients are now arranged in seating six feet apart. Teams are taking temperatures and screening for symptoms at all camp entry points. With the help of drawn lines and clear instructions, people are waiting six feet apart to collect water. Life-saving distributions of soap, food, and sanitizer are happening, but organized so that each family waits at a distance from each other.
Alight frontline staff are also closely monitoring the impact of camp economies and food security challenges as farmers, merchants, and restaurant owners are impacted. Food, soap, and clean energy kit distribution—while observing social distancing guidelines—are just a few of the ways teams are ensuring that families get what they need to stay safe and healthy.
Alight Teams Keep Refugee Camps Running Amidst a Global Crisis
With limited internet connectivity, working from home for staff poses a challenge. It’s simply not always possible to convene dozens of refugee camp teams remotely in order to coordinate the emergency response. So these critical meetings for COVID-19 and ongoing camp management are happening—but at a distance.
“It’s key that our frontline staff are setting the example for social distancing,” says Gina Paulette, Alight’s Director of Global Support. “It signals to the rest of the community that this is important.”
In Dhobley, Somalia, for example, the team there still undertook a three-day training on clinical management of rape, sitting at least six feet away from each other and adjusting their interactions accordingly. In Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda, COVID-19 task force meetings are held with social distance guidelines in place. Our team in Uganda is also meeting with frontline staff in Oruchinga Refugee Settlement and settlements across the country to coordinate country-wide prevention plans, key to ensuring that the response is operating smoothly at all levels.
Leading the Way, Looking Toward the Future
One of the things we’re learning from Alight platforms like Kuja Kuja is that refugees need more information from trusted sources about what’s happening with the virus. What should they do? How should they prepare? How does it spread? How can they protect themselves and their families? Social distancing is one of the first and most important answers to all of those questions.
And that starts with us leading the way and setting an example of how to handle this evolving crisis. By making social distancing the new norm and by thinking creatively on how to respond to new challenges and keep services running, Alight teams are demonstrating to refugee communities that we’re thinking ahead. That we’re preparing. And that we’re doing all we can to keep them safe.
But these steps are just the beginning. We hear the questions and needs coming from the people we serve, and we will continue to be the beacon of information that they are asking for. Through mass communication tools like radio and television, continued conversations with Alight staff, and health messaging at service points, we’re dedicated to getting potentially life-saving information into the right hands.
How 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. There are many ways you can assist our coronavirus relief efforts in refugee camps around the globe. If you have any questions about Alight or our programs, don’t hesitate to contact us.