The pandemic is far from over - just ask aid workers on the frontline

Mohammed, an Oxfam aid worker in Yemen

Mohammed, an Oxfam aid worker from Yemen, says years of conflict have weakened the country's health system and it cannot cope with the pandemic. Photo: Kaff Media/DEC

It’s less than a year since we faced the worst spike of Covid-19 in the UK, but with over 80% of the adult population fully vaccinated, many aspects of life have been able to return to normal. 

Sadly that is not the case in places like Yemen or Syria, where waves of the virus continue to hit people already suffering from a lack of basic necessities like food and clean water. Vaccination rates are extremely low and health facilities are overwhelmed. Speaking to aid workers there, and in some of the other countries covered by our Coronavirus Appeal, it’s clear that the effects of the pandemic will last for a long time. But you also hear about the life-saving impact that donations to our appeal have had, and what gets them out of bed in the morning despite the huge challenges they face.

‘People are really suffering’

“This last year we have seen many tough things in Syria,” says Shahinaz, an aid worker who works for the local partner of a DEC charity in the northwest of the country. “But the worst thing was Covid-19. In the past few months, a new type of the virus arrived and spread so fast. So many people died. A lot of hospitals are closed and because there are no beds, no oxygen, no place for people to be treated, people died outside or at home without any medical care.”

Yemen has also suffered repeated waves of infections as the Delta variant arrived, bringing even more misery to a country in its eighth year of civil war. “After years of war and destruction our hospitals are very weak,” says Mohammed of Oxfam Yemen. “They are not prepared to cope with something like Covid. Since this pandemic started people are really suffering. And they don't know where to go.”

No seeds left to plant

But it’s not just the virus itself that causes suffering. Many people already living on the edge have found their livelihoods vanish as the pandemic has caused economic upheaval and disruption. “The pandemic has gone on for so long, and it has stretched people's resilience,” says Hebdavi of Tearfund in DR Congo. “They're telling us we need to be able to put food on the table, to feed ourselves and our families. The pandemic has forced people to eat all their seeds and so now there is nothing to plant for the next season.”

Even in India, widely considered an economic powerhouse, vulnerable communities have struggled to recover from the awful wave that hit the country earlier this year. “Covid changed many things – so many small industries got shut down, and people have lost their livelihoods,” says Susmita of Save the Children in India. “And on top of Covid, there were two cyclones. So, in the villages where people were fishing and farming, these livelihoods have been devastated. The biggest challenge now is for people to earn money – they’re struggling with hunger too.”

‘I have seen the impact’

That’s the sad reality. But aid workers have also been telling us about the difference that donations to the Coronavirus Appeal have made to the people they’re supporting. When you speak to people working on the frontline, you get a sense of not just the situation, but what drives them, what gets them up in the morning, their passion for helping people.

“I am Congolese,” says Hebdavi. “And being from the DRC means that the people I'm talking about are not just ‘these people;’ they are ‘my people.’ They are names and faces, not just statistics. I go out there and visit camps where the displaced people are in desperate need. It's not just five million people who are internally displaced in DRC; I see them and know what they're facing.”

For Shahinaz, talking to people and knowing she is helping them makes it worth going out to the camps in all weather to ensure people are safe and have drinking water and hygiene kits. “Even though life is so bad for these people we see their smiles and know we’ve helped them,” she says. “If you could see their smiles you too would be happy that you’ve helped them.”

In Yemen, Mohammed agrees: “Whatever we give to the people, whether it’s food or cash or help with their livelihoods, we are seeing their smiles and they are thanking us. We cannot stop the crisis, but we can provide hope to people.”

It’s also what drives Susmita in India. “The gratitude I see on people’s faces is something that keeps me going. When I meet a family who hasn't cooked for three or four days, and then we give them a food basket and they know they can go home, cook and eat. That's the best feeling. Sometimes when I look at these people’s faces, I can’t explain my emotions, but I know when I see them that I’m willing to work for 14 or 15 hours a day.” 

‘We are saving lives’

“I wake up in the morning, and sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes it's hurting,” says Hebdavi. “When you see the fragility and the context and sometimes the suffering, it’s so hard, but then I'm encouraged by one thing. I've seen the impact; I've seen that the work that we are doing is having real effects and changing people's lives. I've seen that the work that we're doing is saving lives, and that gives me the strength to wake up in the morning, knowing that we will go out there, and we’re going to save a life.

“It may be tough sometimes. And it may bring tears to my eyes sometimes. But at other times it brings tears of joy, because I can see the impact of what Tearfund is doing in my country.”

Donations to the DEC Coronavirus Appeal are funding the programmes delivered by aid workers like Hebdavi, Shahinaz, Mohammed and Susmita to protect people from Covid-19 in eight countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, DR Congo, India, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. If you can, please donate to help them continue their vital work.


Coronavirus Appeal

Help people in the world's most fragile places protect themselves from the virus