This article is part of a series featuring inspiring stories of local action #fromthefrontlines of COVID-19 in the Global South. For more, visit our COVID-19 page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Navigating the coronavirus pandemic with any child can be difficult. Now imagine supporting a former child soldier trying to reacclimate to school and society during the pandemic. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this vital work is being done by Fund-supported BVES (Office of Volunteers in the Service of Children and Health).
Based in South Kivu (a region with a long history of violent conflict), BVES and Murhabazi work with internally displaced youth, former child soldiers, and street children to ensure they have safe homes, access to education, and physical and mental healthcare. As COVID-19 inched closer to DRC, BVES began adapting their services and preparing to educate the children they serve about the importance of physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention.
“The youth we serve have specific and special needs during the pandemic,” says BVES Director Murhabazi Namegabe, “They include information in simple language and psychosocial support, which is especially important for children now confined inside in this unique situation.”
As a result of the pandemic, it is not safe for children or families to risk exposure through new home placements or family reunifications, and fewer youth are able to attend group classes or counseling at one time. In response BVES is training staff, volunteers, and children on staying safe, while developing a tool for the security and law enforcement agencies they partner with around recognizing and preventing abuses during the pandemic. They are also on the lookout for any uptick in violence by armed groups that could endanger children further.
Beyond providing direct services to the children in their care, in early April, BVES also produced a pamphlet aimed at children age 10 and up explaining how COVID-19 is spread, that youth may experience different symptoms, and ways to prevent transmission. The sheet also includes critical information for children around their rights, such as the right to protection against abuse and the right to shelter, food, health, and education. The piece was distributed throughout the safe homes and communities in which BVES operates.
The Fund has backed BVES for 15 years, through ongoing flexible funding and strategic assistance that helps them become a stronger, more effective organization. We are proud to stand by them and all those working to protect children throughout and following the pandemic.
*Header Photo: BVES Director Murhabazi Namegabe (second from left) with children attending classes at its center in image taken prior to pandemic.)