In most European countries, the COVID-19 curves have flattened and, as a consequence, more and more restrictions are being lifted. Some partner organisations have even been able to start up their mobile school sessions again, which is wonderful news! However, the opposite is true for our Latin American partners. In general, North and South America have been hit the hardest by the pandemic so far and the numbers of infections and deaths keep rising steadily.

On Wednesday June 10th, 7 mobile school partners from 5 different countries joined us on Zoom to talk about the impact COVID-19 has had on their organisations and their target groups and to exchange challenges and best practices.

One of the main challenges for all teams is the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody knows how the situation will evolve, if and when they will be able to start up mobile school sessions again. The biggest challenge for all organisations, however, is finding funds to be able to keep going. Most financial support the teams receive has been cut or put on hold, since all donors were impacted by COVID-19 as well.

The economic impact on the target groups our partners work with has been big as well. The crisis COVID-19 caused has hit the most vulnerable children and families the hardest, making them even more vulnerable. Most children and families have informal jobs, selling things on the streets or collecting garbage, so they do not have an income anymore. On top of that, most markets are closed, making it really difficult for them to obtain food right now. “Many of the teenage moms we work with usually already struggle to get by and, because of this situation, they are even more vulnerable. Since they are minors, they do not get any support from the government either” says Marleny (Diamanta, Peru).

The main focus of our partners, therefore, is on providing emergency aid right now. In addition to distributing food and/or hygiene kits, our partners are raising awareness about the virus and measures the children and their families should be taking. Partner Yolia Niñas de la Calle AC is planning on organising an awareness campaign, addressing children specifically and telling them what they can do at home to help out. Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortín is collaborating with other local NGO’s to get the correct messages across. “Many families believe what the government is saying, which is that the virus is not dangerous. The Nicaraguan government is still promoting mass events, obliging students to attend school and prohibiting doctors and nurses from wearing masks or gloves to protect themselves because this would alarm the public”, Amalia says.

In addition to providing emergency aid and raising awareness, some partner organisations have been able to offer online support to their target groups. Partner Fe y Alegría came up with many educational activities for the children, sending them fun challenges they could do at home. The team of Asociación Navarra Nuevo Futuro thought out a detailed weekly programme with varied non-formal activities for the youngsters living in residential care. Each day, they could log in to take part in fun activities, from guitar classes to storytelling.

Many of the youngsters and families our partners work with, however, do not have a phone, money for credit or access to the internet, which means they are excluded from all online alternatives being set up, including online classes.

Despite all these challenges, all partners remain hopeful and keep looking for the opportunities to be found. Most partners have been rethinking their (outreach) strategies and have been looking for new tools to be prepared for “the new normal”, so they can start up their interventions again safely when the curves have flattened.

The Spanish street educators already returned to the so-called “new normal” and are opening up the mobile school again on the streets of Navarra. To prepare for this return to the streets, the educators drew up some hygienic guidelines to take into account during the sessions and adapted their activities, so they are “COVID-19-proof”. They are also planning on training youngsters to be health workers themselves.

Mobile school team of Querétaro on their way to an evening street session

One online exchange cannot solve all the challenges our partners are currently facing, but all participants mentioned it was very comforting to hear each other’s stories. “It’s good to know we’re not alone in this. We are all keeping up the fight and that is the most important”, Amalia says. Jessika adds: “Maybe the crisis will help make the invisible people we work with visible, so people know they exist and need to be supported. I know that, in one way or another, we will all keeping finding ways to be there for them.”

Special thanks the participating Mobile School prospects and partners:

Fe y Alegría Ibarra (Ecuador), Alimentos para la Vida (Mexico), Yolia Niñas de la Calle AC (Mexico), Pastoral Social de Cristo Sacerdote Guadalajara (Mexico), Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortín (Nicaragua), Comfacauca (Colombia) and Asociación Navarra Nuevo Futuro (Spain)

Cover ©Rafael Deprost