How COVID has Changed our Humanitarian Operations

Nurses and hospital staff in the Mexican State of Chiapas receiving COVID19 protective kits.

By Benjamin Laniado

Our mission in CADENA is to deliver aid, hand-in-hand, to those who need it the most. This motto stemmed from the need to curtail corrupt and opaque humanitarian practices in the developing world. We represent the Jewish community and the civil society across Latin America and Africa and consider it our duty to provide direct action.

The social distancing measures implemented worldwide to slow the spread of the pandemic have this philosophy to the test. During the past month and a half, we’ve adapted to meet emerging needs while working remotely from the safety of our homes. After some shifting of priorities, we’re proud to say that we’re at the forefront of the efforts to deal with this virus.

A CADENA volunteer delivering COVID19 packages to low income families in Bogota.

To continue delivering help we needed to ensure the safety of our volunteers. This is why we bought fully protected bio-suits, currently in use by our rescue team (our GoTeam) to deliver essential needs.

We’ve also changed our focus. We’re still delivering food, hygiene kits and water filters to the most vulnerable communities., but we’ve shifted our priorities to taking care of those who work at the frontlines of the COVID19 battlefield. In Mexico we’ve delivered more than 2,000 protection kits to doctors, nurses, and staff working in 18 hospitals. Internationally, we’ve delivered more than 2,000 facemasks in South Africa, Chile and Argentina, and 5,000 to the Jewish Community Service of Fort Lauderdale.

A member of our GoTeam in full protective gear delivering food in the State of Mexico.

Our international offices in Chile and South Africa are now producing home-made facemasks to deliver to poor neighborhoods with a higher risk of contagion. At the same time, our offices in Argentina and Colombia have created “Solidary Buildings” programs in which a donations basket is placed in the lobby of residential buildings and CADENA volunteers later pick these up and deliver them to the poorest districts of the city.

Realizing the strain that isolation has we’ve also innovated in our psychological services. Our “Adopt an elder” program has accompanied more than 70 elders living by themselves and help them feel connected and supported in Mexico City. This program has been so successful that we are currently consulting the Mexican Government, in order to implement nation-wide program to help millions of elderly people . We’ve also implemented a similar program in Chile and Colombia

We’re also experimenting with new forms of Psychological First Aid. This is why we released our Kol Whatsapp program: a highly protocolized Whatsapp robot with the goal of combating misinformation and with the capacity to provide assistance to thousands of quarantined citizens at the same time. If needed the program connects the user to volunteer psychologists who are there 24/7 in case someone needs containment or just to be heard. The KOL program is running in Mexico and has been adopted by the country’s national government as a general protocol mechanism for handling future crises crises. We are testing the plan to expand it to all of Latin America.

Last but not least, we are also prepared to deal with recurring emergencies beyond COVID. This is the beginning of the hurricane season in Mexico and the Caribbean we are already ready to act in case one strikes, just like we attended thousands of affected from Hurricane Dorian, in the Bahamas, last year. We are ready to bring food and medical aid to those that will need it the most.

This emergency is forcing us to be creative in our solidarity. But if there’s anything that Jewish history can teach us it is that, in times of hardship, community is the bedrock for survival. Of course, our notions of what a “community” is will change – they always have – but it’s imperative that we maintain this collective focus and adapt constantly in order to help the stranger.

Benjamin Laniado is General Secretary of CADENA.