BY ANNA BARKER
We now face a global crisis which seems to be affecting all of us – restricting travel, for some preventing large meetings and others down to small meetings of five people. Children and families are being asked to remain at home.
Children around the world who are living in vulnerable situations are at risk of becoming even more vulnerable, especially those where isolation will increase their risk of domestic abuse.
We are deeply concerned and are committed to finding effective, alternative ways to support churches, children and families during this time of fear and uncertainty.
Being a networking organisation, some would think that we cannot continue to operate in conditions of social distancing.
However, we are encouraging partner networks to be pro-active, adapt to the new situation and find innovative ways to respond in relevant ways.
At this time, we are encouraging networks to:
- Choose to respond in faith (not fear). Many people are telling us how to wash our hands but in one of our staff member’s churches on Sunday people were taught to wash ourselves (maybe three times a day) in God’s word by speaking Psalm 91 over ourselves and our family. We should be declaring our choice to exercise trust and faith in God for our protection and collective help in trouble.
- Ensure they are familiar with the facts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) website and national government guidelines so that they can support and advise others around with good and reliable information.
- Learn for each other to take positive steps as a network. Different regions around the world are experiencing the WHO-declared ‘pandemic’ in different ways and different timelines. In Asia, our Hong Kong team have been on lockdown for many months whilst the rest of the world is just beginning to be reducing meetings. We can take this opportunity to maximise our connectivity and share learning from around the world to help networks create strong and helpful responses. Here is a space where Viva should by nature be very relevant. We have set up a page on our Children in Emergencies website to share learning and ideas. Some of these ideas include:
• Find alternative ways to connect members through social media groups, webinars and virtual meetings
• If programmes and events are cancelled, use any extra time you may gain to write a network Annual Report, update network policies and send newsletters
• Consider whether training programmes can be carried out through Skype, Zoom or other online video conferencing systems
• Arrange for those who are less at-risk in churches to offer delivery of food supplies to those who need to self-isolate
• Create a rota for calling and checking on those who are most isolated and vulnerable
• Develop activity toolkits that parents, teachers and families can use with their children in isolation – maybe even helping explain to children what is happening around the world
• Youth spaces run safely online through Zoom
• Continue spreading positive messaging through social media
• Are there critical functions that the authorities need an army of volunteers for? That is one thing that the church has available
• Use any extra time you may have by creating some video content to support online campaigns
Some great network examples already have included:
The Philippines: Our partner network PCMN has a seven-day online series on hope. They are about to start a new series on the theme of overcoming. They also have regular prayer slots, and say “We pray nightly at 9:30pm for staff matters, every Monday 9am for projects’ mitigation & implementation, and on regional networks & partnership concerns, every Wednesday, 3pm.”
In El Salvador, our partner network is starting a period of 30 days of prayer for children and particularly those most vulnerable to abuse as they are confined to the home.
India networks are currently meeting via Zoom from their different locations. As part of this they will be introducing a new online child protection training for school staff. With many schools closed, this could be an opportune time for staff to engage in this training with less distraction.
Globally, many networks have shared tools and resources for how to talk to children about the virus and supporting parents in this time.
Three priorities for the coming weeks are to:
Viva’s Network Consultants are our team dedicated to directly supporting our partner networks. They already have regular virtual communication with partner networks. We are encouraging them to continue to communicate regularly, and to ensure they are checking in on how the coordination teams are coping, and to identify further ways in which we can support their work.
- Continue sharing innovative solutions being used by our partner networks.
- Assess all of our funded programmes to see how they will be affected and make contingency plans.
- Be ready to provide any new technical development to support need to continue to support our partner networks to provide for churches and vulnerable children. We recognise that we are all navigating the challenges of this pandemic together.
- Thank God that our partner networks are strong and well-founded so that they can survive these challenging times.
- Pray for partner networks finding new ways of working to continue connecting churches and building their capacity, and to continue supporting children and families in their communities.
- Pray for the staff team from the international office in Oxford as we navigate home working and impending budgeting challenges with many physical programmes having to pause.
- Pray for peace and protection over all.