By Marieke van Woudenberg
Community health project (CHP)
This has been an ongoing project that Operation Mercy in Jordan has had for a few years. When talking about this project in relation to COVID-19 the Operation Mercy Country Director in Jordan said, “As we have a team of health professional, social workers, medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, it led itself really easily to include COVID-19 into the community health project”.
In the first three months of the pandemic (March-June 2020) the CHP team created a Facebook page with the main purpose of raising awareness about COVID-19 and to support people with the psychosocial issues they were sufferings due to quarantine. Included on this page were ideas and suggestions on how to care for family, how to do self-care, how to use the COVID-19 situation to build up families as many people were having problems within their family, how to enjoy time, and creative ideas and stories for kids which would encourage them to keep developing. The Facebook page was quite interactive as it gave opportunity for people to respond and share parts of their story while still guarding privacy and confidentiality as only their stories and not their names were shared.
After three months the community health project opened up again, adapting to local limitations. There were procedures put in place to minimize the risks of spreading COVID-19, such as hygiene protocols and focusing on home visits to regulate the ‘ebb and flow’ of clinic days. This prevented too many people gathering at the clinic at one time to limit social contact and social gatherings, as this project supports about 120 people a month.
Because of COVID-19 the focus of this project shifted to COVID-19 awareness, to ensure that project participants and beneficiaries were informed about the virus and how to prevent the spread of it. This awareness education included the basics of preventing COVID-19 from spreading, how to minimize the risk exposure, social distancing, hygiene, and what to do when someone got sick. Later on, when vaccination programs began, vaccine information was also included in the awareness education.
During the first few month of the pandemic, there were many conspiracy theories going around, especially among the refugee population who were afraid that the government was trying to control them. This was another reason for the community health team to integrate COVID-19 awareness into their project and educate their beneficiaries about the virus. The team helped refugees to register on a website to get a vaccine. When the government of Jordan started to open things up again, the COVID-19 cases stayed low until late September 2020 and then the cases started to rise quickly. That is when more people started to see and accept that there was a virus and were ready to accept what the team had told them re COVID-19 education.
On Saturday the 14th of March 2020, the Jordanian government decided to close all schools, which included the community centre in which the disability project was normally implemented. As the project team was not able to have their normal activities, they put together some packages to give out to the families that have children with disabilities. Those packages contained soaps, sanitizers, tissues, a laminated sheet with advice from the ministry of health, and some paper coffee mugs so that people could use separate mugs instead of everyone drinking out of the same mug, as is customary in that culture. Those packages were delivered just before the government decided to close the regional borders on Thursday 19th of March 2020. Soon after that the whole country went into a lockdown. People were only allowed to leave their homes from 10:00 to 18:00 (local time) to go to grocery shops, bakeries, pharmacies and corner shops, on foot only.
After the lockdown was announced, the whole disability project came to a stop. Local staff and volunteers did stay in contact with project participants and beneficiaries to talk to them on the phone and offer support. Staff remained in contact with most families included in the disability project, although at times people ran out of phone credit and therefore were not able to use their phones anymore. It was not possible for the staff to travel to the community centre anymore as they would have to cross a regional border, which was not possible due to government restrictions.
After some time, local partners (CBO which was started around 2018 with the help of Operation Mercy) came to the realization that there was more freedom in the village with the community centre than in the city where the Operation Mercy staff were located. In the village there were lessened security controls. therefore, these local partners started to pick up some work and connected with local NGOs which wanted to donate packages of flour or packages of vegetables. These packages were initially for the project participants, but as the CBO kept receiving deliveries, the packages were also given to other people in need in surrounding villages, especially widows. Simultaneously, the government had developed a system in which some people gained permission to travel between regions for work-related reasons.
In order to support the local families, Operation Mercy decided to combine this project with the model-farm project. The farm project was also affected by COVID-19, as their usual vegetable (produce) deliveries were not possible, and the vegetables were starting to go bad. The team worked out a plan in which a local worker who could travel between regions, delivered the vegetables from the model-farm to the disability-project village. The project participants were very grateful because they themselves were not able to travel into town to buy their vegetables, which means that they were surviving on either what they received from organisations or just bread, tea and sugar. The deliveries of the model-farm continued until the beginning of June when the government stared to open things up again. In total, there were four deliveries in the spring and three deliveries in the fall of 2020.
However, even after travel restrictions were loosened up, the Jordanian government did not allow any schools or educational centres to open. Therefore, the team decided to keep the centre closed for the groups of children, but the team decided to use that time to invest in their local volunteers. Thus, five volunteers were who Operation Mercy continuously trains to work with the families with disabled children were gathered together. Local freelance trainers, including a physiotherapist, speech therapist and an occupational therapist, were brought in to train the volunteers on how to work with different conditions affecting children with disabilities, while still keeping distance within the room, wearing masks and using hand sanitizers. Three trainings were given by Operation Mercy staff, including an introductory training in play therapy, a training on scheduling various activities, and a training on child protection.
As the summer went on, the team decided to bring individual children for a special lessons on their own. The project manager commented on this saying: “It was not ideal as we are all about inclusion, we do not want the separation you get with individual lessons, but that is what we had to do for this time, and I could see some benefit as well. We could go deeper at more specific activities for specific individuals which was good as well”.
Agricultural Cooperation for Development Model-farmCOVID-19 impacted this project as Operation Mercy in Jordan normally donates the produce to local partners such as churches and community centres. These partners then distributes it further to the most vulnerable families in that community. However, due to the pandemic and government restrictions, some partners were not able to receive any vegetables as they were not allowed to continue their activities. Operation Mercy in Jordan responded to this by finding other venues to distribute to, one of which was the village in which the disability project is implemented. In this way the vegetables could still be delivered and used and did not need to be thrown out, and people within the community were able to have their basic needs met.