USAID Empowers Civil Society to Support Children & their Families during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for Georgia’s socially vulnerable residents, including children. To help Georgian society cope with the pandemic, USAID, through its ACCESS program, has partnered with local civil society organizations to create conditions where children are supported amidst the pandemic conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone. For children and their families, it has brought a particular set of challenges, especially for families that are socially vulnerable.

“During lockdown, children are deprived of social interaction and communication, which causes emotional exhaustion and fatigue,” said Mamuka Makhatadze, director of Firefly World, a children’s hospice in Tbilisi.

Since COVID-19 first appeared, societies around the world have been forced to find new ways to care for their most vulnerable citizens, both through public services and private initiatives. In Georgia, community-based organizations have stepped up to support the country’s response to the pandemic.

The USAID ACCESS Program started issuing COVID-19 rapid-response grants to community-based civic groups and CSOs in March, shortly after the onset of the pandemic.  These grants have made it possible for community-based organizations to carry out COVID-19 response work in a number of fields: training medical personnel to treat cases of the virus; sharing fact-based information about the pandemic; and supporting vulnerable members of society, among other things.

Of the 22 grants issued by the USAID ACCESS Program, six have gone to organizations focused on children’s issues, including Firefly World.  An organization dedicated to supporting Georgia’s most vulnerable children and their families, Firefly World was forced to make difficult decisions due to the pandemic. The organization temporarily closed its day center, a place for children to interact with their peers in a safe and supportive environment.

“Our children could not leave their homes and their parents could not leave them,” said Mamuka. After receiving the grant from the USAID ACCESS Program, Firefly World was able to shift many of its services online, providing web-based counseling to 41 families, and even recording videos for families to ensure proper care inside the home.

The organization also used the support to launch a crowdfunding campaign to mobilize additional resources from private donors. “While the number of hospice donors is growing by the year, more active involvement from the community and the State is essential,” said Mamuka.

Five other organizations have used financial support from the USAID ACCESS Program to address the struggles faced by vulnerable children and their families -- struggles that have been compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic.  While additional public and private commitment is necessary to create a better environment for children, civic initiatives and social movements play an important role in supporting and giving voice to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. 

Coalition Education for All set up a working group of teachers and experts to prepare educational materials for distance-based learning. These materials have made it possible for teachers and students to continue the learning process while schools are closed.  Giorgi Chanturia of Coalition Education for All had this to say:

“The most important action that we took was mobilizing the organizations working on educational issues, decision-makers, and donors in one space and planning joint interventions. We facilitated an open and participatory decision-making process. We established a supervisory board for the project that brought together the members of the Coalition, as well as donor organizations, teachers, and independent experts. Most importantly, we had regular, nearly daily, interaction with teachers and we developed our activities in close cooperation with them.”

Lika Qurcikidze and Shoko Tkeshelashvili, two child psychologists, used their grant to produce more than 30 short videos for children aged between three and five who were unable to attend kindergarten due to the lockdown.  Their videos showed how parents can use games and exercises as a resource for early childhood development, distributing the videos through social media and through the online education package of Georgia’s Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports (MoESCS).

“Because of the pandemic, the Georgian government closed down schools and kindergartens. Schools were relatively quick to start online classes, but kindergartens were unable to do the same. This created significant problems for children under six and their parents. [Many parents] were unable to support the uninterrupted development of their children,” said Lika and Shoko.

“We wanted to help and empower parents in this difficult time. We tried to use different developmental games and show parents the easy and fun ways to engage with their children and develop their cognitive, motor, mental, and interpersonal skills. Our developmental videos were free and accessible to everyone.” 

Another grantee, Social Workers for Society’s Well-being, used the USAID funding to empower caregivers and administrators of family-style group homes (i.e. children’s homes) to more effectively assist and protect orphaned children, and to better cope with feelings of stress and isolation caused by the pandemic. A representative of Social Workers for Society’s Well-being commented that:

“USAID ACCESS’ financial support enabled us to offer our services and support online.  We quickly adapted to the new normal and put together a distance training program for community-based care-homes for orphaned children.  We organized 60 group sessions for 82 caregivers from 19 care-homes to help them support the psycho-social wellbeing of their children during the pandemic.”

To help children with special educational needs and learning disabilities continue their education during the pandemic, Innovations for an Inclusive Society collaborated with the MoESCS, schools, and families on a broad effort to prepare children entering school in the 2020-21 academic year. Importantly, the project did more than prepare children and their families -- it also worked with schools to welcome children with special educational needs and provide an environment where they could thrive.

Studio Bicycle used its grant to create a series of animation videos to teach children under the age of 10 how to protect themselves from the virus. The videos Giraffe Zhoze, a popular animated character. This method allowed Studio Bicycle to deliver important public health information through a children-friendly medium. 

02 December 2020 12:20