Finding new ways to help

By Global Fund for Children | May 20, 2020 | The Americas | Education, Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

Editor’s note: this blog is also available in Spanish.

In Cancun, Mexico, one organization is adapting its community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic based on an essential first step: listening.

This blog was written by GFC partner Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres (CIAM). Located in Cancun, Mexico, CIAM works to prevent violence and promote healthy masculinities, using an innovative peace education model and a gender- and human-rights-based perspective.

CIAM’s holistic approach includes working with youth, parents, teachers, and community members in peace-oriented activities such as village cinemas, mobile play centers, and conflict resolution training.

From the very beginning, we realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would have devastating effects for the communities we support. We were not mistaken.

At CIAM, we support 50 families through peace education and through youth workshops on sexual and reproductive rights, which are held both in our center and in neighborhoods of Cancun that have some of the highest rates of intra-family violence in the state.

Most of the people we serve have lost their jobs. The young people who come to our gender rights workshops were unable to continue their studies, and sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls has deepened. Many of these communities do not have basic services or access to quality health care, so they are largely unprotected during an emergency like COVID-19.

The impact on mental health has also been severe. The young people we support have suffered episodes of anxiety and depression and it’s difficult for us to reach out since they don’t have any privacy within their homes. It’s hard for them to think about their plans for the future when they only think about surviving day by day.

As an organization, we were not fully prepared. The coronavirus pandemic has taken us by surprise, severely impacting the population we serve and forcing us to rethink ourselves as an organization. We have had to find new ways to help. As we say in our regular team meetings about responding to this crisis: “If you can’t go outside, go inside.” Learn about yourself. And so we are doing just that.

In developing our emergency response, we knew we had to do something to help the 50 families we support. But we also knew that they themselves have to decide what they need and how. The first step is to listen. Always. When you listen, the whole community gets involved.

The CIAM team packs up food and sanitation supplies for the families they support in marginalized neighborhoods of Cancun, Mexico. © CIAM Cancun

At the end of March, we conducted a survey with the participants of our programs. Eighty percent reported that their economic situation had worsened due to unemployment, reductions in wages, and forced unpaid vacations.

Sixty-six percent of families expressed difficulties in acquiring basic food supplies and cleaning and disinfection products – items that are necessary to minimize the risk of contagion. The results also revealed that educational support and counseling were needed so that young people could continue their studies.

Once we determined the population’s needs, we requested emergency support from Global Fund for Children. We sought to cover the most urgent needs, but, at the same time, we aimed to develop strategic models of care that promote youth empowerment and community work.

© CIAM Cancun

At all times, and especially in times of crisis, you must always remind young people that they are protagonists of their story and agents of change within their families and communities.

We are distributing food and hygiene kits. At the same time, we are developing teaching materials so that families (and especially children and youth) can take care of themselves and work together during these months of social distancing.

We are also promoting community hotlines to detect and monitor cases of domestic and gender-based violence. We launched an action guide for women in situations of violence during isolation, which includes a directory of helplines, as well as preventive measures and information that can save lives.

We are also supporting children and youth through virtual counseling and pedagogical assistance, and we’re working with their parents so they can improve their education and communication skills.

We continue to listen to and support the community. We know that the emergency is far from over, but now families know that they are not alone. That the crisis will never be an excuse for indifference, selfishness, or inaction, and that something can always be done. By helping, we all save ourselves. We save humanity.

We are living in an unprecedented crisis. We are all learning, with good days and bad days. For CIAM, the emergence of COVID-19 has been a lesson in resilience and hope. There will always be new ways to help. And the best way to start is by listening.

Thanks to GFC for helping us not only to respond to the emergency, but to learn from it and to better serve the communities we work with.

Donate to support children affected by the coronavirus.

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