As countries reopen more and more throughout Europe and North America, it is easy to feel that the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over. But across the world, and particularly in East Africa, the opposite is true. Rather than opening, countries are going back into lockdown. Rather than celebrating a return to normality, they are wondering how much longer they can survive.
Even now, many of our partners live and work in countries where COVID cases are rising, hospitals are full, and vaccinations are scarce. As many of them have shared with us, it is “the poorest of the poor” that continue to suffer the most, both from a lack of healthcare and from the economic implications of lockdown and school closures. Parents who put all their savings towards sending their children off to boarding school for the year are now receiving them back home, without the money to feed them. The elderly often live in large households where isolation is impossible and infection a danger. Closed borders mean a shortage of critical medications for conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Teachers are once again faced with the challenge of feeding their families while not receiving a salary. Hospitals are overwhelmed.
And yet, Social Innovators are not giving up. They are mobilizing, leaning into the hard-edged hope that has always propelled their work on behalf of the most vulnerable. James, an educator in Uganda, shared that with us this past month, they were able to deliver one metric ton of food to unpaid teachers and their families. And these were not just teachers in their own school, but in schools across their city. Other community leaders, like Sam and Irene, operate a clinic and are working hard to make sure people have the medicine and supplies they need. Hope and Godfrey are providing food packets, educational supplements, and microfinance opportunities to families vulnerable to exploitation. Programs working to meet people’s most basic needs continue.
As we have all learned during the past year and a half, there are no easy solutions to the challenges that COVID-19 has created worldwide. But more than ever, this pandemic has taught us the critical importance of community health and sustainability – the kind of holistic well-being that empowers a community to weather disasters and remain resilient and flourishing. Healthcare access, food security, economic opportunity, internet access, quality education — all of these and more are ingredients of what it takes for a community to thrive.
More than ever, the realities of this global pandemic have strengthened our resolve to invest in community flourishing – to focus on accelerating local, sustainable solutions and build on the momentum of local Social Innovators. Their creative resolve to face each community challenge head-on, and build a new way, is what ignites our own commitment. We want to see a world where the most vulnerable are prioritized, where the services are built around the needs of everyone, and where poverty and illness no longer steal a generation’s dreams.
These are our dreams. They are the dreams of hundreds of grassroots leaders across East Africa. They are the dreams of grandmothers and school children and single mothers all across the world. And together, we are building the future we want to see, one family and community at a time.
COVID may not be over, and the pain and struggle it has caused in vulnerable communities continues. But the vision and the future these Social Innovators are building continues further. They are not giving up, and neither will we.