It is inspiring to witness iACT’s community leaders at work. Since the temporary suspension of iACT’s sports and education programs, all of our teachers, coaches, cooks, and coordinators have now become public health leaders on the frontlines of preparing their communities for the Coronavirus. This transformation has been impressively seamless for these leaders.
Each day, team members from Chad, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Greece flood our Refugee Response WhatsApp group with photos, videos, and updates about their efforts. They are also sending messages of hope, praise, and encouragement to each other, and information on how their communities are coping. They exchange strategy ideas and share the evolution of their efforts based on the shifting needs of their local communities. Each localized response is unique to the needs of the community.
As we sit inside typing away on our computers, it is clear that iACT’s community leaders in camps around the world are doing the hardest work.
“Of course, I’ve printed one and make copies! Tomorrow I will share with 22 camp leaders. I have seen many problems because some people are difficult to understand! They still gathered in groups, they are not doing well in hand washing!”
“Hello everyone. How are y’all doing here? Here I’m surrounding the whole Nduta refugee camp now from Nduta A to Nduta B spreading the iACT documents over COVID-19.”
“We have created many WhatsApp group chats here in Nduta and Mutendeli. Truthfully, this method is helping us a lot sharing the information, including Facebook.”
“Today my team and I distributed another two hundred copies of iACT fact sheets around two large zones, zone 19 and zone 20. I also successfully trained zone leaders of those zones about iACT fact sheets.”
“Hello team. How are you? Here in Djabal camp today I started distributing the soaps to the most vulnerable people in my community. They are so happy to receive this aid from iACT. And they greet every iACT family and particularly to the international team. Lastly they said they pray God for you and your families to be safe from this COVID-19 and their warm greetings to you too. I visited four more places today and tomorrow too until we complete the whole camp.”
Not only are they distributing information, but they are also collecting information. Our Tanzania team created a household survey to better understand how they can do their job better. In Tanzania the team decided it was important to understand what information the community had and where it was coming from. The leaders then used this information to adjust their approach. As they discovered that 70% of outreach was focused on women who are the primary head of households, one way they have adjusted is by ensuring that our female team members are front and center in outreach efforts:
“We’ve been doing an incredible job together with [Refugees United Soccer Academy] coach Jeanette. I always thank her for the bravery and willingness she has shown us in this work of serving our community.”
Every day these leaders are putting their lives at risk to coordinate with local NGOs, religious networks, and formal and informal camp leaders to organize systematic zone outreach. They are walking within their camps of between 15,000 and 75,000 residents and informing hundreds of families one at a time. They are learning from their efforts and revising their actions daily. They are organizing committees, training leaders, and modeling health and hygiene and COVID-19 precautionary behaviors. After assessing the needs of their community, refugee teams in Chad and Greece have been able to distribute over 3,000 bars of soap to families. It is a tireless and dangerous job that they are embracing with optimism and gratitude.
However humbled we are by their actions, we know it is barely a scratch on the surface. Of the millions of refugees and displaced persons, we work with but a fraction of them. The humanitarian world needs to take notice of what we are seeing in these communities, step back, and let the experts, the refugees within, lead. Amazing work is being done, but there is so much more to do.
Thank you to our refugee heroes. We see you.