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Community organizations are indispensable partners in the COVID-19 crisis

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Nairobi, 15 May 2020 - The Sixth COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus session focused on the central role of community organizations in supporting the most vulnerable people in cities during the pandemic. Organized by the World Urban Campaign, the webinar brought together over 80 community practitioners from different regions and faiths in a lively debate.

Sri Sofjan, Co-Chair of the World Urban Campaign and representative of the Huairou Commission emphasised the need to develop new ways of recognizing the role of grassroot communities and to amplify bottom-up processes in decision-making. She said the fundamental role of community leaders had been demonstrated during the pandemic and they have become indispensable partners in the humanitarian space in urban areas.

“The pandemic has triggered an unprecedented crisis that is much more than a health crisis,” said Eric Berg, Chairman of Habitat Norway, a voluntary, non profit advocacy and information association. He said this was the result of the lack of attention to the urban poor by decision makers and development agencies in the last five decades. This crisis should be seen as an opportunity to give a stronger role to community organizations because they know how to reach the most vulnerable.

David Boan, Director of Relief and Development and COVID-19 Global Task Force at the World Evangelical Alliance, an international organization with a Special Consultative Status in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, said governments need to work with organized communities and their leaders, including faith-based organizations who can reach out to large groups, mobilise and share information.

“They represent a voice of hope for all and compassion for vulnerable groups,” he said explaining that such platforms are effective in disseminating the right messages and adapting to different faiths to reach different audiences.

Multi-faith platforms and networks represent vast networks of health and education services and represent trusted intermediary between government and local communities explained Nadyia Hussain, Violence Reduction Unit Delivery Manager, Education and Faith Lead at the West Midlands Police Office, UK.

Violet Shivutse, Chair of Huairou Commission and Coordinator of the Shibuye Community Health Workers in Kenya, said community leaders had to come up with new ways of working quickly, training people on using new technologies to communicate remotely on emergency measures and translating government guidelines in simple language to explain the risks in the most remote places. She said they had to adapt quickly to respond through health care, food distribution, farming or education.

New communication and tracking tools have emerged as fundamental to the work of community leaders. Lana Finikin from Sistren Theatre Collective, a grassroots organization in Jamaica, explained how her group started to use safety audit tools to identify danger zones, advising on improvements and empowering women to alert others on safety issues. Using mobile phone apps, they have been able to gather information and assess the needs of the most vulnerable in order to deliver care packages to residents that required specific support and medication, particularly to the elderly.

Josephine Castillo, National Programme Coordinator of DAMPA Philippines, a federation of 230 women grassroot organizations, explained how they have build a space to exchange ideas to improve delivery on the ground with local governments. This has included the distribution of masks, sensitization programmes on social distancing and ensuring food security.

Three more Urban Thinkers Campuses on COVID-19 will be held online on 20, 27 and 29 May on facing the wage gaps and social security, pandemic resilient urban planning and reporting during the coronavirus crisis. For more information and to register go to https://www.worldurbancampaign.org/urban-thinkers-campus