COVID-19: Responding to Today’s Crisis, Planning for Tomorrow

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Dear friends,
Although our countries are all affected by this COVID-19 epidemic, we are thinking of each one of you. As more cases are diagnosed, the governments of our countries are doing their utmost to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and they are taking necessary measures. Gatherings are not allowed and often confinement is now required. With this, our first fear is for all the people who cannot continue the daily work needed to feed their families. This informal sector work is no longer permitted. In many areas the costs of basic food needs are blown out of proportion. Sometimes a curfew is in place. In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, we wonder what will become of the children who live in the streets now that there is a curfew.

This pandemic disarms us. It creates fear and anxiety. We feel powerless. Being together, in close contact, meeting and holding gatherings, being part of each other’s lives are at the heart of our movement. And now, our greatest strength is threatened by obligatory measures of confinement or physical distancing. But can we really stop being who we are?

Everywhere we are shaken up and asking ourselves questions:

  • How do we keep “moving together” in this situation? How can we still be useful to the families who have the hardest lives and who mustn’t we forget? How close can we stay with the families we know so we can be there in the toughest times, finding answers together, in spite of the constraints? Being physically there even if it cannot be as often as we’d like, respecting the medical advice, are doable for us. It seems indispensable with all the emergencies that are part of already difficult lives. Our centres and Fourth World houses cannot be left empty.
  • How can everyone help and be recognized for their usefulness? The families in greatest poverty can’t be cut off from sharing, made to wait for what help will come. They cannot be made to feel useless. It’s our responsibility to bring to light whatever they invent in terms of solidarity and to create opportunities for them to bring their ideas and take action.
  • How can we keep being a movement together? In front of this crisis we need to keep thinking with people in poverty and with all members of our movement. What else can we do beyond making phone calls to get news? We need to create time and space to think together about how we respond now and we need to prepare for afterwards.

To stay creative and courageous, to feel even more connected than ever, and to share and amplify our initiatives, we want to share some news about the kind of solidarity that is being developed among members of ATD around the world.

In one part of France activists have begun teleconferences.

“What’s going on for you?” “Who do we have to think of?”

These are small groups of people with a common experience who are thinking together. It’s a way of getting to know each other better, saying what people think and resisting this crisis in practical ways. The US team has started group calls with 20-30 friends and members of ATD to think through the situation together. In Switzerland and Spain the next People’s Universities are being prepared through group discussions using new technology. The European regional team is also bringing the national team members together on the internet to accelerate the dissemination of ideas and initiatives. A solidarity campaign among children is starting up.

In Haiti, where things had been fairly calm, the first COVID-19 cases have appeared in Port au Prince. Group activities at the Fourth World house have been suspended since schools were closed and gatherings forbidden. The nutrition program with little children and their parents is continuing. The group sessions have been changed into individual times scheduled throughout the week. This program is vital.

As in Port au Prince the Malagasy government has called for the confinement of all people living in the capital, Antananarivo. No one is permitted to move about the city in the afternoon. Food distribution occurs on a neighbourhood level. In this situation solidarity is making sure that every person is registered on the neighbourhood lists and supporting the families whose lives were already in crisis before the pandemic. The craft coop “Working and Learning Together” is being transformed into smaller neighbourhood workshops to fabricate protective masks. These masks are no guarantee of full protection from the virus but they greatly reduce the risk of transmission. The families involved will be able to have masks for themselves and their neighbours. Maybe this work will even create some extra income for them.

In several European countries this is already the second or third week of confinement. Once the initial stupor has worn off, people are starting to organize. In all the regions health services are increasingly overwhelmed but continue to handle the onslaught. Governments are imposing stricter confinement measures. In Europe as elsewhere what is now urgent is to make sure that no one is completely isolated or suffering from hunger. That’s why some of us have obtained authorization to circulate and find the people whose situation is so urgent that no phone call is enough. Like bakers, cashiers in supermarkets, health workers or the police we have a socially necessary responsibility that has to be worked out amidst the pandemic. While taking every precaution and health permitting, some of us must be able to keep going to the people and families in vital need of support.

In many places ATD members are asking themselves how to hold onto that aspiration of continuing our lives together with those close to us, with our neighbours, friends and our family, especially when we are shut up in our small apartments or housing. In Noisy-le-Grand, families living in the family development housing meet daily to exchange news from their windows. In Noisy, Montreal and elsewhere people are telling stories to children over the phone or by internet. In Tanzania, gatherings are not permitted but it is still possible to visit people. The team is holding reading time and doing creative activities with children in their homes.

We know how important it is to question our countries as well as our national and international institutions so as to think with and for everyone about how to handle this time of emergency and in the same breath to think about the future.

In our next letter we will share these efforts with you.

With our deepest friendship,

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