KIND works with partners to respond to the needs of children and families in Central America amid COVID-19 crisis

August 6, 2020

Young woman is working on Colectivo Vida Digna’s mask production project design masks using Maya embroidery patterns. Photo credit: Anna Aziza Grewe, Coordinator Colectivo Vida Digna, Youth and Migration.

While the coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented level of vulnerability for children, families, and communities in Central America, KIND and our local partner organizations continue our commitment to supporting them through our reintegration program for returning migrant children and our gender-based violence prevention programming.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated long-standing challenges in Central America, fueling high levels of violence, including gender-based violence, as well as near complete impunity, environmental degradation, extreme economic inequality, and lack of government accountability. Weak health care systems in the region have been pushed to the brink of collapse by the virus and have left many people without access to basic healthcare.

Many Central Americans have also lost their livelihoods and face extreme food shortages. Lockdown measures in response to COVID have intensified seasonal hunger in Central America, especially in the region’s Dry Corridor. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in Guatemala there has been an increase in undernutrition by over 55 percent amid the COVID restrictions, while 270,000 households in Honduras have needed food assistance.

The prevalence of intrafamilial violence has also increased in the lockdown, while organized criminal groups have taken advantage of the crisis by ramping up extortion, sexual violence, and drug trafficking. The communities where they operate are at extreme risk of harm. Decreased capacity of judicial and child protection systems and limited mobility has made it even more difficult for those affected by violence to seek protection and assistance. Governments in the region have also responded to the coronavirus crisis with extreme measures that violate the rights of citizens. These include violent repression of protests over food security and the use of lethal force and imprisonment in response to curfew violations, which can increase exposure to coronavirus.

With support from KIND, our partner organizations in Guatemala and Honduras have developed innovative approaches to respond to the most urgent needs of families and children who have been affected by loss of work and income, food insecurity, lack of health care and information in indigenous languages about how to prevent the spread of the virus, and increased risk of gender-based violence.

KIND is grateful to Asociación Pop No’j, Casa Alianza, Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP), Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), and Colectivo Vida Digna, which have shown their deep dedication and commitment to the rights and well-being of children and families during this unprecedented time.

These organizations are addressing the immediate needs of these children and families by supplying them with food baskets and kits with masks and other hygiene supplies, while also developing strategies to support their long-term well-being.  For example, in response to hunger and malnutrition, problems that are intensifying in the pandemic, Asociación Pop No’j is launching a project in the community of Santiago Chimaltengo, Huehuetango that draws on local resources and knowledge to promote sustainable agriculture and increase food security. The project gives direct food assistance to vulnerable children and families while also providing them with seeds, tools, and technical support to cultivate fast-growing and nutrient dense foods in home gardens.

ECAP distributes emergency food supplies to children and families in Quiché, Guatemala. Photo credit: Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial, ECAP.

In addition, organizations are sharing information on health precautions, human rights, and violence prevention amid the pandemic. ECAP has produced and distributed radio announcements on public health and gender-based violence prevention in Ixil, an indigenous language spoken in the Nebaj area of the Quiché department of Guatemala. Honduran partner Casa Alianza has also used radio and social media to continue to educate youth and families on gender-based violence prevention and how those affected by violence can seek help in times of mandatory lockdown.

KIND’s partners have also adapted their programming to provide group and individual psychosocial support to children and families to help them handle the stress, anxiety, and depression provoked by the current health and economic crisis. CASM, which supports returning migrant youth and their families in Honduras, has provided workshops for parents in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to share their feelings and experiences and learn skills to improve communication and conflict resolution during the lockdown.

Abigail Balderramos, psychologist at CASM, explained the benefits of these workshops, stating, “Mothers and fathers have learned techniques to relax and manage stress. Their anxiety levels have decreased, and their relationships with their children have improved. In the workshops, parents have the opportunity to share their fears, difficulties, and problems. The simple fact of being listened to and understood by someone who shares their situation helps to reduce stress and increase wellbeing . . . Parents have gained skills to manage their frustrations with the parts of the current situation that they cannot predict or control.”

Colectivo Vida Digna, a Maya organization in Quetzaltenango dedicated to supporting youth, women, and families to fulfill their potential and guide the growth of their communities, has adapted existing economic empowerment programming for girls and young women to respond to the COVID crisis while also supporting indigenous identities. The organization has worked with girls and young women and their families in the Quetzaltenango area to design and produce face masks, using materials and techniques drawn from local textile traditions. The masks will be used by participants, their families and community members. The masks will also be sold to local and international markets, with profits going to participants. Twenty-seven families have participated in this entrepreneurial activity.

For KIND, this crisis has reinforced the importance of working closely with local partners and seeking out flexible and creative solutions to address the vulnerabilities migrant children and their families face.

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