Safe Home Initiative Supports Pakistan Communities Hit Hard by Covid-19
August 19, 2020
Pakistan’s systems and institutions for managing natural disasters emerged strong from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, but the coronavirus has confronted disaster-management authorities with an altogether different and unfamiliar challenge. In a society already suffering from poor and inequitable healthcare and social services, the pandemic has had an outsized impact on the most vulnerable populations, especially poor women and children.
Recognizing the specific needs of the vulnerable, The Asia Foundation has launched a community-centered response to the Covid-19 crisis that addresses the public health and social welfare implications of the pandemic. Under the Safe Home Initiative for Women and Children, the Foundation joined hands with a local NGO, the Children’s Global Network Pakistan, to bring relief to suffering populations in rural areas. The initiative is funded by the Lotus Circle, which supports Asia Foundation programs that promote gender empowerment and equality. Interventions have addressed hygiene needs of women and girls and provided resources for children, and their families, who are unable to attend school. The Safe Home Initiative also refers women to official agencies that provide psychosocial and legal counseling to victims of domestic violence.
Since early July, the project has delivered hygiene and education kits to 500 families in remote districts of Punjab and Sindh, including Sajawal, Sukkur, Khairpur, Bahawalnagar, and Narowal. Children in these families are now making use of activity-based homeschooling. Sajida Bibi,* a mother of six in the Sindh village of Ahmed Khan Hathiyaar, said the education kits are “a blessing,” because she can’t afford writing supplies for her children. Before the pandemic, her husband worked in a textile factory, but he was laid off as the virus spread and the factory cut jobs. Since then, Sajida’s family has been struggling to make ends meet. “I’m so thankful for these resources for my children,” she said. “Now they can keep doing their schoolwork at home.” She added, “The field team has been very helpful in showing us how to use the things in the kit.”
Natasha,* a 15-year-old girl in the eighth grade at a public school in the town of Rohri, in Sindh, could barely contain her excitement when she received her education kit. “This is the first time in my life that I have had wonderful items like these watercolors and this special paper,” she exulted. Natasha says drawing and painting are her favorite activities, but she despairs that she can’t afford the materials. Her father, the principal breadwinner, earns barely enough to buy food and clothing for his family. The education kit includes writing paper, reading materials, sports equipment, and learning aids for English and mathematics. It’s not only allowing Natasha to pursue her passion, but also giving her younger siblings a chance to take part.
For women in rural areas, ordinary sanitary pads can be virtually impossible to come by. Thirty percent of girls in Pakistan drop out of school because they can’t get safe period products to use. The Safe Home Initiative is distributing hygiene kits with recyclable pads, produced by local start-up O’Naps, that are biodegradable and free of plastics and chemicals. Members of the Safe Home community outreach team provide women and girls with culturally sensitive instruction in menstrual hygiene when they distribute the kits.
Congested urban areas have also been particularly vulnerable, especially at the onset of the pandemic. In April, the Foundation joined hands with government disaster-management authorities and the district administration of Islamabad’s neighbor city of Rawalpindi for a systematic distribution of pandemic relief items. Three thousand personalized hygiene kits were provided to the Rawalpindi V-Force, a community-based, youth volunteer group working under the auspices of the local government. The kits included protective equipment and sanitation products such as face masks, soaps, and disinfectants. They were distributed to the most severely affected communities during the initial stages of the pandemic when there was a severe shortage of these essential items.
The Foundation’s efforts to build community resilience and public awareness of the pandemic rely on a coordinated approach with key stakeholders to reach people at the grassroots level. “No high-level policy or national relief response to Covid-19 can succeed without the collaboration of frontline workers, civil society organizations, and committed local governments,” says Sofia Shakil, the Foundation’s Pakistan country representative. “Local leadership, grassroots organizations, and intermediaries are all critical to reach the most vulnerable and needy.”
In the short term, the Covid-19 crisis calls for targeted, needs-based relief to mitigate the immediate impact of the disaster on the poorest and most vulnerable. In the long term, Pakistan must pursue institutional solutions to build the resilience of affected communities and increase their social and economic empowerment. Only in this way will Pakistan emerge strong from this pandemic.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality.
Syed Abbas Hussain is a senior program officer, and Farva Rashid Minha is a unit coordinator, for The Asia Foundation in Pakistan. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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