How churches can support impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised groups

The impact of COVID-19 will be particularly severe on people who are already vulnerable and marginalised, including refugees, migrants and people dependent on a daily wage, living hand to mouth, and on those living in settlements where physical distancing is not possible and where hygiene capacity is limited.

The Church needs to respond both reactively and proactively: reactively by intervening, while following public health guidelines, to support the most vulnerable people in our communities, who will be most impacted by COVID-19; proactively by advocating for and with marginalised and vulnerable people and looking to the longer term consequences of the pandemic.

Get the message out
Make sure messaging about COVID-19 is getting out to everyone. Marginalised urban groups and isolated rural communities can be easily overlooked.

  • Work with health authorities and others on messaging and how to reach people
  • Ensure that you have clear simple visual material in different languages – not just in the local language but also in those of migrant and refugee populations
  • Put posters up at strategic places like water points, food markets or shops, bus stops if transport is still functioning, churches if still meeting
  • Use other media to reach people: radio, TV, social media, telephone tree, loud hailer from a car. Speak with people from marginalised groups to learn how to reach that community. Be creative in your thinking.

Enable hand washing
Hand washing is one of the most important protective measures against COVID-19. However, soap and water are not readily available to everyone. Work and advocate with communities to:

  • Distribute soap to those who cannot afford it – they are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the impact of COVID19
  • Encourage Tippy Tap construction at household level and near communal water points and latrines. They will not last forever but are cheap and easy to replace after a few months. They could save lives now.
  • You may need to add chlorine distribution to ensure safe water is being used for hand washing

Ongoing activities and programmes
Many churches have ongoing, established activities and programmes to support vulnerable people in their communities. These will need revising in the current circumstances. Work with government authorities to see how your ongoing programmes can continue. For most activities, particularly if there is a lockdown/curfew, you will need to get permission/accreditation as key workers for staff and volunteers to continue your ministries with the most vulnerable groups. You will need to develop a protocol and make changes to enable activities to continue safely and in compliance with government regulations. These might include: ensuring there are sufficient hand washing facilities on site; doing food distribution as take away food parcels; ensuring physical distancing during activities.

Use your assets
Churches have assets – including volunteers and buildings – that will be of great value in supporting vulnerable people in your community and that might provide opportunities to work with government authorities. What might an asset-based response look like?

You will know your context, but it might be volunteers supporting those who are self-isolating by shopping or going to the pharmacy for them or providing social support through phone calls. In another context, it might be helping to distribute food parcels to families whose children would normally eat at school or using a church hall as a testing centre or a school as an isolation centre.

There may be other opportunities to use churches and buildings that are currently standing empty to support the most vulnerable. You might be able to provide accommodation for homeless people or for migrant workers who have lost their jobs and been thrown out of their accommodation.

As with established programmes, you will need to develop protocols to ensure any activities can be carried out safely and in compliance with government regulations. In particular, think about ensuring sufficient hand washing facilities and physical distancing.

Think about the economic impact on people
One of the overriding concerns of our online calls has been the potentially catastrophic economic impact of the pandemic and the measures being taken to contain it, especially on people who are already marginalised and vulnerable.

On the Africa online consultation convened jointly by the Anglican Alliance and the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), Dr Maged Yanny from EpiscoCare described the situation in Egypt. “Right now, in Egypt, tens of thousands of Egyptians have lost their work, because they are temporary workers”, he said. Refugees are also affected, because many refugees work as domestic workers, but most have been asked not to return to the houses because of fear of infection. “The economic impact of the Coronavirus on the poor and on temporary workers is a major problem. The Church needs to do something because the need is very, very high. We have at least three million refugees and migrants in Egypt and the majority work as domestic workers, so imagine the need to support them. The Anglican churches in poor areas are supporting some of them, but the need is high”. The Anglican Church has four clinics in the areas where refugees live, but they have limited resources and the medical need is very high, as is the need for food and foodbanks. “We ask you to pray for everyone who has lost a job and everyone in a crisis” Dr Yanny concluded.

Nicholas Pande, from CAPA, echoed the need for the Church to think through its response – and particularly about how to support the government with employees who have lost jobs. He described how the hospitality industry in Kenya is “on its knees” in an economy for which tourism is so important. “Thousands of employees have been sent home” he said. Tax revenue is down, meaning that even when the COVID-19 emergency comes to an end there is the danger of an economic breakdown, so the Church must consider what the recovery phase will look like.