COVID-19: Responding to an invisible enemy

by Shelagh McLoughlin
9 April 2020
9 April 2020

In March SaveAct met its nemesis.  If the organisation’s main reason for existence is to unleash potential by bringing people together, then SARS-CoV-2, a nano-sized virus that leverages human contact to advance, is a deadly foe.

Given the speed at which the pandemic is moving, SaveAct, like the rest of the world, has been scrambling to respond, but some precautionary measures have been put in place. The organisation is also negotiating with key donors to try to secure continuity of operations, whilst emphasising a significant shift to attending to the critical needs of staff, partners and savings group members, and their families.

“In times of crisis we have to attend to the needs arising and rise to the challenges it brings,” says SaveAct executive director, Anton Krone. “If we fail to do that, we risk being no longer relevant.”

He says it’s also important for the NGO to consider how it carries on its work without compromising health and safety. Throwing its weight behind the government’s call for lockdown protocols to be observed was one of the first measures taken. Before the lockdown started, SaveAct implemented social distancing at all levels of operation. Staff are working at home and physical meetings have been halted. Savings groups have been “strongly” advised to not meet during the current savings cycle.

All communication with SG members is now via digital and voice communication. A network of WhatsApp groups linking field staff to SG members and farmers has been formed and these groups are being used to share information with members about the virus, their needs and how to cope.

Field staff have been tasked with using these WhatsApp networks to monitor local conditions and concerns in communities where our SGs are based, and to relay this information back to management on a weekly basis.

The first report-back last week identified concerns including how savings and loans will be continued and difficulties accessing food safely. Most of our members live in rural areas where they must take taxis to town to go shopping, and safety is an issue with sanitizers and masks being in short supply. In addition, some areas don’t have a reliable source of water.

Farmers are also concerned about not being able to access markets to sell their crops and broilers. Given that links with food supplies in town have become severed in many areas, it makes sense for farmers in those areas to sell their produce door-to-door or through spaza shops. SaveAct will be trying to facilitate this, as well as find out what food supplies and other essential services are available in the different regions where it works.

SaveAct has been consulting with some of its partners about sharing knowledge and resources, such as infection control guidelines for staff when going into the field. It’s also looking at what can be done in terms of short-term relief work.

“SaveAct has a large rural footprint and we’ve been encouraged to look at planning ahead in terms of short, medium and long-term involvement,” says Krone. “We are looking at how we can build on savings group networks and use these networks to disseminate information.”

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