An interview with Zerihun Gultie, country director of Holt Ethiopia, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting children and families in Ethiopia — and how sponsors and donors are meeting their most urgent needs.
How is the pandemic affecting children and families in Ethiopia?
COVID-19 has been affecting all of us. … March-May was terrifying because we knew that the infrastructure in this country isn’t able to cope with a pandemic like this …Travel was banned to the field. Public gatherings were also restricted. Schools were closed. And the economy was partially shut down. So this has been affecting the socioeconomic livelihood of communities, especially in the places where we work. … People who used to get food from the market were not able to get food. It has affected everyone, especially the poor and those who are living in the rural settings.
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What is the COVID-19 case rate in Ethiopia?
The case rate is 10 percent of the people who are tested on average. But again, this country’s testing capacity is very limited. … In a country where you have 100 million people, testing 5,000 people is nothing. So the figure doesn’t tell you the real situation.
How have sponsors and donors helped meet the most urgent needs that were caused by the pandemic?
I would like to thank all the sponsors and donors because without their generous support, we would not be able to respond to this situation. We changed our focus to emergency response. … We have been providing food aid for 1,000 households until they harvest their crop. (Currently, we stopped food distribution because they started harvesting their crops.) We mobilized a youth group to create awareness on preventive measures including keeping distance, washing hands and wearing masks. This was new for the community where we work.
We provided sanitizers and hygiene and sanitation materials to the hospital first, then to isolation centers, health centers and public service providers because they were not able to get those PP materials. So we have invested a lot in providing personal protective materials to those institutions so they reach out to the needy community.
We also mobilized the stakeholders, especially the partners that we work with, to create access for hand-washing. We provided them with tankers, masks, sanitizers and soaps. Everything they needed, we have been supporting. So we have been using sponsors and donors donations to respond to the emergency situation.
How are Holt Ethiopia staff and partners helping children learn while schools are closed?
Social workers, teachers and partner organization employees conducted home visits with the aim of checking on children’s wellbeing, to teach them preventive methods, and to provide sanitation and educational materials. Besides, they were assigned to encourage kids so that they continue studying at home and prepare for the next grade level.
What limitations do you face in serving children right now, and what would help?
We do implement four major programs including early childhood care and development, inclusive education and health and nutrition programs. We still continue supporting over 350 women-headed households under our economic empowerment program. But currently, there is additional demand due to COVID-19. So we need additional support from the donors and the sponsors to respond to all the demand that is coming from the community.
What would you like to say to sponsors and donors directly?
I would like to thank all the sponsors and donors. Without their generous support, we would not be able to respond to the demand that we have seen from the children and their families. I would like to say thank you and God bless. In my language, I would like to say “amasegnalehu.”
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