By Marieke van Woudenberg
One of the initiatives in response to COVID-19 was taken by the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) project team. This project is focused on training and organizing self-help groups for women. During the lockdown, the team called every woman from whom phone numbers were available and a brief explanation was given about what they should and should not do regarding COVID-19. Most of the women who were called expressed their gratitude for the information about the ongoing situation and they felt better equipped to go through the COVID-19 circumstances.
Rahmat book project
When the pandemic began, an idea arose among the Rahmat Publishing team to write books for children to raise COVID-19 awareness. The first book has the title “What do you know about Corona?”. This book contained three characters: a grandfather and his grandchildren. The children ask their grandfather about the coronavirus and through his answers the children are taught about COVID-19, morals on how to prevent getting the virus, and motivation not to lose hope. The second book is called “Stay home, stay healthy”. In this book another character was added, the neighbour, who contracted the COVID-19 virus. The focus of this second book is to educate children about quarantine, the importance of staying at home, and keeping distance. The illustrations in these two books provide information for illiterate children as well.
The books are written in two of the main Afghan languages, Dari and Pashto. With the change in languages, the names of the characters changed as well. In the Dari translation typical Dari names are used and in the Pashtu translation typical Pashto names are used.
There were multiple purposes for these books - to raise awareness and educate children about COVID-19, and also to restore hope among children. The team tried to convey the message of hope through the books. Another purpose was to entertain the children, as they were not able to go to school or play outside their homes with friends. And the last purpose was to support the development of children regarding their reading and writing skills.
Operation Mercy in Afghanistan distributed around 30.000 copies of the two books. Operation Mercy gave partner organisations, such as Save the Children and Zoa, permission to print, use and distribute copies of the books. Therefore, there were around 100.000 copies of these two books distributed around the country.
The Rahmat Publication Manager commented on the responses he received about the books saying, “One of my colleagues said that when he distributed the books, he felt so proud to see the joy in the eyes of children when they received these books.”
Due to the lockdown in Afghanistan many people were not able to work to earn an income and buy food. Hence, the Operation Mercy office decided to start a food-distribution project. Prior to the food distribution, the Operation Mercy team did an assessment in the neediest areas of Afghanistan with nine question to see who was the neediest and therefore eligible to receive the food packages. In this assessment, questions were asked such as: Is the head of the household a widow? Does the family have to pay rent? Are there any employed people in the household? How many children are there in the family? Has the window frame glass in it? Etc. All people who were involved, even if they were not selected for a food-package, received a COVID-19 lesson, a piece of soap, and the two Operation Mercy published COVID-19 books. In total, between 500 and 550 families received a food package, which contained supplies for a month, for 6-8 people, including cooking oil, flour, rice, pulses, tea and sugar.
Another project was providing PPEs to frontline people (people who work in medical clinics). The WaSH Kabul director commented on this by saying “we found out that there was a large number of PPEs coming into the country, but when we talked to the frontline people, they did not have any”. Operation Mercy worked with the Ministry of Public Health, who provided a list of clinics that needed the PPEs, and also tailored the PPEs in a way that the PPEs for hotter areas were made of lightweight materials. In total, about 2,5 thousand kits were distributed to 64 local clinics.