To implement appropriate and effective global actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs, in official partnership with UNESCO, have created a social media network of solidarity in order to interact with their local associations. Anxiety and fear about the virus during a public health emergency has led to various forms of social stigma, discrimination and stereotyping. With several Facebook groups created in all regions, this initiative aims to share the realities of the situations experienced and alert about the needs, report examples of exceptional solidarity initiated by civil society on all continents, and propose a new vision for the post-COVID-19 world.
Nine main themes were identified by the network for which many initiatives were deployed:
Efforts on the reduction of inequalities were made in Algeria, Brazil, and Zimbabwe. Services to aid the elderly entitled “Petites soeurs des pauvres” were offered (CICC, Algeria); distribution kits, including alcohol gel and soap, were to mitigate exclusion and poverty (ATD Fourth World, Brazil); and assistance with social and health interventions to underprivileged groups was given (IFOR, Zimbabwe).
Unemployed and low-income residents have been heavily affected by COVID; therefore NGOs have highlighted the fight against poverty through the following initiatives: “Imthong Imjai Tanpai COVID19” project providing 3,300 food boxes to communities in need (BPW Bangkok, Thailand) and in-service training for teachers where food was also distributed to communities in need (AMI, India).
Social stigma can be a barrier to the COVID-19 response resulting in exposure to health risks, harassments, discrimination and isolation. Efforts to include isolated and marginalized populations carry on through the creation of a sustainable education model titled “The Samburu nomadic school initiative” (AMI, Kenya), offering psychological help to Afro-Colombian mothers by the Edo Group (Make Mothers Matter, Colombia), and performing acts of solidarity to fragile communities (Fourth World Movement ATD, Philippines).
The fight against discrimination was showcased through several initiatives. Videos were made available on the social stigma surrounding the community during COVID-19 (Mentor Mother, Make Mothers Matter, South Africa), a “Color Your Rights” global project on one’s rights to better combat discrimination (OMEP), and help was provided to transgender groups in India by providing them with livelihood items (CICC). Aid to displaced populations was carried out through different initiatives, among them: Corner of Hope’s Internally Displaces Persons Camp, where safety measures were taken and virtual support provided (AMI, Kenya), Health services were running in the NGO Friendship after being affected by the worst floods of the decade (Member of Make Mothers Matter, Bangladesh), the NGO OMEP raised awareness on the situation of refugee camps and its effects on children (OMEP, Greece). Lastly, the Montfort Social Institute provided cooked meals to migrant workers and tackled inequalities exasperated by the pandemic (CICC, India).
To support women during the crisis, NGOs have set out approaches to protect women such as: operating a women’s shelter (BPW Barbados), working against gender-based violence through new technologies (Peace and Development Foundation - IFOR, Uganda), assisting new mothers and mothers-to-be through the NGO Mame Pentru Mame (Make Mothers Matter, in Romania), creating awareness and assisting violence-exposed women (SAF/UNESCO New Delhi Office, India), and including courses at the centre for marginalized girls (Claire Amitie, in Côte d'Ivoire).
Initiatives around the involvement of youth and their vision of the future were carried out globally. The students of the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of South Asian Arts shared their message of solidarity during the pandemic (South Asian Foundation - SAF, Pakistan), Young BPW Brazil created a national file of registered female members and utilized Instagram for knowledge sharing. In Bangui, ATD Fourth Worldvolunteers were joined by youth to share information with vulnerable local communities. Solidarity between youth prevails with efforts such as in Cameroon, “Blas in Africa” has worked with young teachers aiming to train the younger generations about leadership and improve schooling outcomes.
Collaboration continues through initiatives focusing on the importance of information and communication technologies for all, for instance, a collaborative network between France and Argentina by the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP) on virtual education was made available online, the access to educational cards online (AMI), and the launch of an International Day of Action entitled “Make peace the new normal” by several IFOR branches, connecting people from Austria, Singapore, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Colombia.
The transmission of trustworthy information about health is also a priority, where campaigns against COVID-19 were launched (BPW Freetown, Sierra Leone), a health and hygiene programme “Wash from the start” disseminated to schools and networks (OMEP, Nigeria), a training programme on the prevention of COVID along with an awareness campaign (IFOR branch Anando, Bangladesh). Initiatives also included the creation of a local radio station by the NGO ASODAMAS (Make Mothers Matter, Colombia) and workshops with health services by CCIC UNESCO.
Through the wide set of diverse initiatives contributing to exploring new and innovative responses to the global crisis, NGOs have created an effective network of solidarity with the support of UNESCO and their shared values.