AJWS in Action: Updates from Our Partners, April 17

Right now, the organizations AJWS supports are courageously fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic in the developing world. AJWS will continue to stand by all of our grantees in 19 countries during this global crisis—and we will update you on their life-saving work right here.

As the nation with the fourth largest population in the world but a vastly underfunded and under-resourced healthcare system, Indonesia faces grave risk as COVID-19 spreads through the country’s thousands of islands. In Central Sulawesi, an island of nearly 20 million people, the pandemic is the second catastrophe to strike in just two years: Many communities in and around the city of Palu are still desperately struggling to recover from a 2018 earthquake and tsunami. Those disasters killed over 4,300 people according to the government — though AJWS partners estimate the death toll to be far higher — and displaced tens of thousands, destroying homes and critical infrastructure. Entire communities lost everything.

Two years later, without any government assistance, thousands of people remain in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps with little access to food and extremely limited job opportunities, living in makeshift wooden shelters. As COVID-19 spreads through the region, the situation for these displaced people has gone from dire to disastrous. And the government continues to look the other way.

AJWS grantee Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) — which supports families hardest hit by the 2018 disasters — is now stepping up to respond to COVID-19. AJWS made a new grant to support WALHI to distribute hygiene kits, soap and cleaning supplies, and disinfect the crowded shelters in IDP camps across the region. WALHI is now leading a coalition of community-based organizations, including another AJWS grantee, Sulteng Bergerak, to reach as many people as possible, while combining their advocacy forces to push Palu’s local government to ramp up their lagging response to the pandemic. This is a classic example of how AJWS grantee-partners marry immediate humanitarian aid with long-term human rights advocacy during and after crises.

As WALHI director Haris Abdul said: “It can be difficult to help other people while we live under these conditions, but we’re together in this crisis and we won’t leave anyone behind.”

COVID-19 is rekindling recent trauma for Liberians, a nation that survived the terror and devastation of Ebola just six years ago. With the immense toll of the 2014 Ebola crisis still on their minds, on April 10, the leaders of Liberia declared a state of emergency and instated a nationwide lockdown, preventing movement between counties, closing businesses and limiting time outside the home — all important measures to halting the spread of COVID-19.

AJWS partners in Liberia are working to ensure that amidst the developing crisis, vulnerable populations have as much support as possible. This week, AJWS issued a grant to a prominent transgender-rights organization to distribute sanitary and protective equipment so it can slow the spread of COVID-19 among the transgender population — a community already extremely vulnerable because of poverty and the deep stigma they face in society.

What’s more, this organization is now training staff members to work within Liberia’s rapidly shifting public health structure to continuously advocate for transgender rights even as the crisis evolves. Staff are engaging with police officers and community leaders to ensure that Liberia’s transgender community remains protected and safe from abuse — because in many communities, rising tensions during times of crisis lead to violence against this vulnerable population.

In countries like Uganda, where misinformation about COVID-19 is rampant, the need for clear, objective and well-researched journalism about COVID-19 is critical — never more than in times like this. In Uganda, rural communities, in particular, often lack access to reliable news sources.

To rectify this, AJWS is now supporting the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) — an organization that bolsters local journalism on human rights issues — to disseminate clear and accurate information about the pandemic to remote, rural communities. With our support, NUMEC is collaborating with the local government of Uganda’s Northern Gulu district to produce radio and print stories to educate rural communities about how the virus spreads and how they can stop it — vital work that will save lives.

NUMEC’s work is especially critical now, as the spread of misinformation can contribute to increased stigma and even violence against vulnerable populations. In late March, 23 LGBT young people living in a shelter were arrested, brutalized and charged with willfully spreading the virus, adding fire to public sentiment that LGBTQI+ people hold blame for the crisis — a poisonous stigma that is surfacing in many countries right now. AJWS grantee Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) is providing emergency legal aid, food, medicine and housing for those LGBT people who were arrested and have nowhere else to go upon their release from prison.

Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic’s healthcare system is tragically under-prepared to respond to the onslaught of COVID-19 that is looming over the nation. There are only 250 ICU beds in the entire country, home to over 10 million people.

AJWS grantee organizations like Diversidad Dominicana are working tirelessly to keep the extremely vulnerable LGBTQI+ population they serve healthy and free from hunger, so they can avoid getting sick in a place where there is little hope of receiving medical care.

Food insecurity among vulnerable communities is a rising problem in the country. Massive job loss and economic hardships are spreading, due to a nationally mandated quarantine. Diversidad Dominicana is now collecting food and essential supplies to be distributed to LGBTQI+ people in greater Santo Domingo — where many LGBTQI+ people live alone and are increasingly unable to support themselves financially.

Diversidad Dominicana, along with other AJWS partners, is also advocating that the government ensure that its aid measures reach the country’s most vulnerable communities — people to whom government assistance will be most critical.

With Bangkok under a strict curfew and other major urban centers largely locked down, Thailand remains under a state of emergency — with immense economic fallout already felt across the country. As part of its relief plan, the Thai government announced cash stipends of about $150 for citizens, sent directly through bank accounts. This will help many families, but will leave out throngs of migrant workers and other people who work in the informal economy, because they do not have formal bank accounts.

Without sufficient funds, these vulnerable populations struggle to buy personal protective equipment to avoid contracting the virus. So as the price of face masks and other protective equipment rises across Thailand, AJWS grantees are taking the safety of their communities into their own hands.

Love Pattaya — a grantee that prior to the pandemic focused on gender rights issues — is now purchasing supplies and teaching local women to create protective masks, and distributing those masks to public hospitals and communities. Several other grantee organizations are responding in the same way, teaching their communities to make masks while spreading information about the importance of protecting oneself and others from the virus.

This information is accurate as of April 17, 2020.