Mercy Corps Persists Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Mercy Corps is a nonprofit organization that currently operates in 40 countries across the globe and employs more than 5,600 team members in those countries. Its mission is to help alleviate poverty, suffering and oppression by focusing on creating secure and productive communities. Its team members work alongside the people of these communities as the local impact is a priority.

The communities Mercy Corps helps face violent conflict, natural disasters, poverty and the effects of climate change. Because of this, Mercy Corps goes beyond just providing immediate aid. Instead, it develops long-term solutions that help make lasting change possible, which is especially valuable amid COVID-19. On its website, it says, “We bring a comprehensive approach to every challenge, addressing problems from multiple angles. And we go beyond emergency aid, partnering with local governments, forward-thinking corporations, social entrepreneurs and people living in fragile communities to develop bold solutions that make lasting change possible.”

Where Mercy Corps Operates

The largest region Mercy Corps operates in is Africa. The Mercy Corps website lists 15 countries in Africa where they have people such as local community members, government officials and other changemakers on the ground. Asia comes in second with 11 countries listed and the Middle East in third with six. The Americas, which includes North and South America along with the Caribbean countries, have five countries listed while Europe has one.

Food security is a huge issue that Mercy Corps helps with through the continent’s various offices. Places like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan have long had humanitarian crises and years of conflict that ravaged food resources. Famine is a severe risk on the continent often due to the ongoing conflict or droughts and flooding. They affect both adults and children. In Somalia alone, 1.2 million children were malnourished in 2018. Displacement, disease and lack of access to clean water are other issues facing the people on the African continent.

What Mercy Corps Does to Help

“We believe communities must be at the center of what we do. Therefore we partner with them to identify and drive solutions to address underlying causes of fragility, especially: grievances; weak governance and inequitable economic growth,” Grace Ndungu, Mercy Corps’ Communications and Media manager based in Kenya, told The Borgen Project in an interview.

Mercy Corps’s work is guided by the following core strategies. The top strategy is saving lives and livelihoods by empowering the people living there. Partners of Mercy Corps also help strengthen governance systems, build social cohesion and address underlying conflict drivers and grievances, which will work toward addressing the root causes of conflict and fragility. In short, Mercy Corps’s efforts help provide the next generation of African leaders with “the opportunities and tools to drive inclusive and accountable governance systems and to lead processes of peaceful change.”

COVID-19 in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the whole world, but partners of Mercy Corps have seen their countries hit firsthand. They have had to adapt to the times, and in other cases, put their support programs on hold. In Africa, Mercy Corps during COVID-19 was able to adapt and keep things going. The sudden school closures due to the pandemic, along with limited access to the internet at home, particularly impacted many girls across Africa. Being out of school would mean added responsibilities around the house, risk of early and enforced marriage, among others.

In Nigeria specifically, teams with Mercy Corps that collaborate with government agencies and local communities were able to adapt learning activities by providing virtual learning sessions through WhatsApp, SMS and radio programming. Radio lessons on “English, mathematics and life skills” were broadcasted on one of the major national radio stations. Students also received workbooks that coordinated with the lessons, which prevented a pause in education and provided a means for bonding with family through a shared learning experience. Education was also provided through WhatsApp and SMS texts to girls with access to a mobile device.

COVID-19 in Jordan

In 2021, Mercy Corps is starting to resume support programs at two refugee camps in Jordan after a one-year suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The camps, Zaatari and Azraq, have been in lockdown to try and minimize the spread of COVID-19. This lockdown drastically affected the Syrian refugees living within the camp, interrupting access to urgent medical care, social gatherings and education for the children.

In “early June, the government of Jordan started to gradually loosen restrictions on movements for the majority of sectors” and allowed more movement with health precautions. This allowed Mercy Corps to resume its mental health and family strengthening programs in the Zaatari and Azraq camps at 50% capacity. Each activity the organization runs in the camps has “10 participants per session,” and priority is given to “youth due to the difficulties in reaching out to them remotely.” The return of the activities helps to reduce the stress among individuals, families and neighbors in the community after the pandemic aggravated socio-economic conditions.

The Legacy of Mercy Corps

Since 1979, Mercy Corps has been helping people around the world overcome crises and poverty. Through its long history, Mercy Corps has adapted its methods to fit new situations and aid as many as it can. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent hurdle it has had to overcome.  But, with ingenuity and breaks, this nonprofit has continued to help its base of people across multiple countries. Recent adaptations show that Mercy Corps will be able to continue modifying its practices to face and overcome anything that is thrown in its way.

– Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

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