Local churches in some of the poorest cities around the world are on the frontline of the pandemic in the Global South. Coming together in pioneering, city-wide networks, they are reaching increasingly vulnerable children and families – despite being socially distant.
Whilst having been mostly spared from the often-fatal health effects of COVID-19, millions of children in some of the poorest countries around the world are at an increasing risk of being among this pandemic’s most widespread victims.
“For the 2 million children our partners work with already facing vulnerable situations (for example, armed conflict, trafficking or street living) the effects of the virus and measures taken to prevent its spread, are making their lives increasingly more fragile and complicated”, says Mark Stavers, CEO of Viva. “While for many children, home is a place of security and safety, for a great deal of others, violence by parents or carers towards them or other household members is being exacerbated by being unable to leave.”
Millions of these children living in vulnerable situations around the world also live within walking distance of a local Christian church. Viva works with grassroots churches and Christian organisations who have caught the vision for working together in 27 countries; and supports these networks of local Christians to run high quality programmes offering hope to these children, meeting their needs and tackling the root causes of the problems putting them at risk.
During the global pandemic, these over 100 organisation-strong networks have launched into emergency mode, working harder than ever to find innovative ways to provide for the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the children and families around them.
Christian networks in countries as diverse as Nepal, Uganda, Nicaragua and Lebanon have been ministering in similar ways: distributing food, sharing health information, running campaigns to help children stay safe online and offering socially distanced mentoring.
Thousands of local Christians from across the globe are currently preparing to launch into the latter of these. Viva is assisting their partner networks to train 1,200 Christian mentors to use normal phones or online support to provide six key mentoring messages to over 25,000 children and their families, helping them to stay safe and healthy during lockdown.
The pioneering calls will encourage families to take proactive actions together on each topic covered, which include building strong relationships, techniques for coping with mental health issues, anger management and learning together daily, as well as providing a devotional refection when appropriate.
Viva’s Children in Emergencies Specialist, Kezia M’Clelland, who has been helping to develop the programme, commented, “Over the years, our grassroots partner networks have given consistent feedback about the incredible impact of mentoring, and now, in the face of lockdown, it is even more essential to curb the growing risk of domestic violence.
She continues, “In the context of a global emergency, the idea for rapidly creating an innovative, phone call-based mentoring course for all the networks to use was generated in partnership with our international team. We are so glad to be able to support the Global Church to reach out to children from afar”.
This way of communicating will be able to reach some of the most vulnerable families who may not have internet access, but rely on socially embedded, long-established relationships for help and support – which is why Christian communities are so effective at this method of safeguarding.
At present, the programme is being piloted in two cities in India, and then materials will be swiftly adapted and translated into local languages for each region across Africa, Latin America and Asia.