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Addressing the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on communities

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Dishnika Perera, UNV Communications, Asia and the Pacific

When the Coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the world just over a year ago, it did not spare any community or society. COVID-19 rapidly caused devastating socio-economic impacts such as income loss, business impacts and health concerns. Basic consumer needs were affected. The lack of awareness among communities, in the wake of an unfamiliar crisis, further exacerbated the situation.

While COVID-19 severely impacted the most vulnerable communities, its effects were also felt across UN programme countries, reversing many positive gains in sustainable development. To support countries and UN partners in their response to the pandemic, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme invested its resources to deploy UN Volunteers with partners, financed through its UNV Special Voluntary Fund.*

Since then, 83 UN Volunteers have been deployed. Serving with diverse UN partners, these UN Volunteers are supporting in many areas of intervention, including directly and indirectly ensuring the safety of their communities and developing solutions to the new challenges arising from the global pandemic.

COVID-19 struck Mali in a security and socio-economic context already weakened by the current political situation. UN Volunteer Saibou Diallo was deployed to an initiative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as a Project Coordinator. His task? To support the government of Mali in its response to the pandemic.

UNV also supported UNDP’s response plan by deploying 60 community volunteers in Bamako and Mopti to raise awareness among the population. Saibou supported in planning, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating the project's activities. He also contributed to the recruitment and deployment of community volunteers to inform communities about the health crisis and the means of prevention.

We had to face a flood of misinformation and denial about the disease. Community volunteers carried out multiple sensitization campaigns and helped raise awareness of the virus and its existence. During eight months of activities, from May to December 2020, we reached nearly 375,000 people. These include more than 250,000 women in health centres, markets, mosques, camps for internally displaced persons and other public spaces in the six communes of Bamako and the four communes of Mopti. Being a UN Volunteer gave me the opportunity to amplify my passion and commitment to help vulnerable communities and reach more people through this project. --UN Volunteer Saibou Diallo, UNDP, Mali

In Madagascar, three UN Volunteers were deployed as Community Engagement Mobilization Officers with UNDP, working under the programme to promote decentralization and community resilience (Programme d’Appui à la Décentralisation et à la Résilience Communautaire). UN Volunteers Kenny Rogers Rabotson, Justine Lange Lailla and Raharijaona Todiosa Faramana supported COVID-19 response efforts, as part of the programme's operations.

They assisted in providing equipment and supplies for activities geared towards maintaining public health and safety, as well as disseminating information and raising awareness among the community on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the region. Above all, they ensured preventive measures are being adhered to.

"Thanks to these interventions, we were able to work efficiently with all state partners and non-governmental organizations," Justine shares. "We also sensitized the community on the severity of the pandemic, and the local population respected all the measures put in place by the centre."

I am very happy to serve my country as a UN Volunteer for community engagement in COVID-19. I supported the technical teams in raising awareness of COVID-19 among popular localities and schools. These measures helped in controlling the spread of the virus. --UN Volunteer Kenny Rogers Raboston, UNDP, Madagascar

"I was based in the Androy region, where we carried out sensitization through the tam-tam mobile throughout the region, distributed masks to vulnerable groups and put up posters in the local dialect," says Faramana. "As a result, the communities were made aware of the dangers and that the coronavirus really exists. Communities are aware of preventive and precautionary measures in case of contamination and say they feel safe if they follow all these preventive measures."

In Timor-Leste, UN Volunteer Leticia Iria Ximenes Amaral has been supporting UNDP’s Food Distribution Project to help the most vulnerable communities during COVID-19. From July 2020 to the end of February 2021, more than 300 volunteers helped this distribution, including 23 UN Volunteers, scouts and students.

"The criteria for vulnerability are based on low-income or single households, health issues or disabilities hinder them from working, elderly people (60+ years), and orphans," Leticia explains. "We reached 30,400 individuals from over 5,000 households per municipality and 37 different institutions across the five municipalities. The project, implemented in collaboration with the local community, youth, farmers and authorities has benefited both vulnerable people and local farmers."

In Fiji, COVID-19 has created immense economic and social challenges among communities in these islands, affecting family and community dynamics. On one hand, people have lost their jobs and have had to move back to their villages; on the other hand, there has been a rise in gender-based violence. In his role, Gabriel has been looking at ways to find solutions to these issues.

UN Volunteer Gabriel Jacob Mara serves with the UN Resident Coordinator's Office. He supports the efforts of UN entities, development partners and local government to assess challenges and assist the most vulnerable community groups. He has also assisted service providers in accessing remote areas.

As a UN Volunteer, it has been a great honour for me to be able to assist my people, to learn and understand the issues on the ground – the issues that affect their daily lives. As a local indigenous person, I can use this spectrum of understanding to an advantage, especially when finding solutions or collaborating for societal and community development. --UN Volunteer Gabriel Jacob Mara, UNRCO, Fiji

In Kuwait, Aisha Alqabandi served as an Information Management and Community Support Specialist with UNDP. She worked on initiatives to assist marginalized groups through UNDP’s expansion into disruptive innovation and digitalization, as a rapid response to COVID19. Putting the local community at the centre of decision-making processes, she says, has allowed her to contribute to bringing forth a new normal, where social policy initiatives are more inclusive and accessible.

Volunteering is needed for our new normal to thrive. UN Volunteers are the face of their communities; they are in the field, soaking up the emotions and the needs of societies to provide solutions to complex problems. I am proud to represent my community and be a source of hope. --UN Volunteer Aisha Alqabandi, UNDP, Kuwait

In Guatemala, UN Volunteer Liza Maria Noriega Flores serves with UNDP’s transitional justice project. She works with various stakeholders to strengthen democracy and peace culture. Liza helps spread awareness about these results through diverse communications content. In August 2020, within the framework of International Youth Day, the project launched a digital communication campaign about how youth is significantly helping the COVID-19 response.

"Currently, we are developing COVID-19 materials for communities ensuring cultural relevance," Liza shares. "The past year taught me resilience, gratitude and solidarity. What I value the most is the teamwork we do, especially between UNDP and our national partners. Although the pandemic came and changed mostly everything about the community work methods of organizations, teamwork allowed everyone to continue learning and adapting to this uncertain time. As challenging as it is, I am very proud of this experience and the work I contribute to."

The efforts of these UN Volunteers have been crucial in reaching the communities furthest behind and ensuring the safety of all during this crisis. As the world gradually steps towards recovery from of the global pandemic, volunteer efforts will be essential in building a fairer, healthier world.

*UNV's Special Voluntary Fund (SVF) was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. Over time, the SVF mandate has been modified and expanded, with the SVF providing seed funding to scale up successful projects where volunteerism has had a transformative impact. The SVF is also used to develop innovative volunteer-based solutions as well as undertake research and knowledge sharing. Read more here.