|Posted by Charlotte Baker on December 16, 2020 at 1:40 PM|
Our founder and operations director Charlotte reflects on an extraordinarily challenging year:
I honestly cannot believe that it's Christmas next week - what a year 2020 has been, in ways that none of us would have expected as we waved the New Year in.
It’s been a tough year for everyone here in the UK and I’m so incredibly grateful for our amazing SSFA supporters who have stuck with us this year. It’s a testament to how people who may be facing struggles themselves are still willing to reach out to those less fortunate - we don’t take it this continued support for granted at all.
have always run SSFA alongside a full time job. I usually hear from our two projects in Madagascar roughly every two weeks, via an email from our social worker in the field or a WhatsApp from Hanta who run the girls home we support. But this year I will level with you, has been beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. Our amazing social worker Ony has been in touch on an almost daily basis with stories of families in distress.
Covid hasn’t actually impacted Africa as badly as Europe so far - but given the fragile health systems, many countries instigated hard lockdowns long before the same level of transmission here or other European countries. We’ve had the furlough scheme and other state support here in the UK - in Madagascar, they’ve had nothing.
As soon as lockdown hit, many of the families we support found their incomes drastically reduced - for example, some of the mothers do washing for a local guesthouse but suddenly there were no guests. Price inflation due to limited air and freight transport meant the cost of some goods went up by 500% overnight. Schools closed in March and as well as the obvious impact on children’s education, the loss of two hot meals in the school canteen was keenly felt - in many cases the meals at school are the only meals children receive in a day.
Up to now, as you know we’ve focused on children and in particular our sponsorship schemes - but the Covid crisis has meant that we’ve been called upon to help with all sorts of cases. Thanks to generous response to the Covid appeal we launched in April we’ve been able to help more people.
I want to talk about what we’ve been doing through two stories:
I got the dreaded middle of the day WhatsApp early in lockdown just as the schools in Madagascar had closed, to say that a normal set of home visits had revealed a family in a dire situation. This is a family whose three children are in our sponsorship programme. Only the youngest three children were home - alone - because the eldest boy of 14 and his single mother had been forced to take work at the local mine, after being threatened with being evicted from their home. They were being paid 25p a day to carry rocks up and down a hill and sort them. The kids said they had only eaten boiled water with sugar for a week and their mum had taken the work out of sheer desperation.
We stepped in and said we would pay the wages of the boy, Louis Frank, if she promised he wouldn’t go and work there any more, and we have also supported them until last month with food parcels and our Covid-19 grants. Unfortunately this family were eventually evicted through no fault of their own - but we helped them find new accommodation and supported them with rent. They are now doing well, we’ve helped the mother find better work as the economy has reopened and she has been able to gradually do without our support - but we’ve made it clear we are always here for her and her children, and social workers visit monthly.
Another example of where our works has expanded - Charlotte is a woman who has been known to our partners for some time, as she used to do some washing for local businesses in and around the village we work in. As soon as lockdown came, many of her clients stopped other people coming into their compounds and her work dried up overnight. She was 8 months pregnant with no family support, and I received a WhatsApp from our social worker saying she had given birth to a baby boy and had been sleeping outside as winter arrived in Madagascar, where temperatures at nighttime hover around 5-7 degrees. I immediately responded saying of course we could help - we provided an emergency grant to get her and the baby seen by a local medical team and since then have contributed towards getting her housed. She and the baby are doing much better now, and we anticipate that he will join our programme with Ankizy Gasy in two years to start pre school .
These are just two stories of many - there are families who have all contracted Covid-19, leaving the parents with no income and bills mounting up; a family whose home and small shop was raided by armed robbers wielding machetes - they took everything the family owned and took away their livelihood.
But through our COVID-19 emergency fund, we’ve been able to step in and make a real difference. We provided support grants every fortnight from March to July to help families feed their children when there was no school canteen; our partners Ankizy Gasy handed out facemasks in the community that were made by the girls in the AAF centre we support. We provided food donations to the girls home to help them cope with 84 girls suddenly at the centre all day every day; medical visit costs for the two families we support that caught Covid-19; and the printing of home learning materials.
I am constantly amazed by our incredibly supporters who reach out and offer their support to families - many have given so generously throughout this year and have enabled us to do this work.
Away from COVID-19 though, we still have to celebrate some extraordinary success. You may have read in the past about Therezia, the oldest child in our Ambohidratimo programme, with ambitions to go to university. Well this month, we learned she passed her baccalaureate exam, and will be the first child in any of our programmes to go to university.
Her sponsors, our partners Ankizy Gasy and SSFA have made that happen and I couldn’t be prouder. Similarly we have had 5 children come in the top 3 in their class this year and receive special commendations, showing how hard they’ve worked, despite school being cancelled for so many months.
We were also able to fund a much needed renovation of the toilet block at the centre for vulnerable girls we support - they were down to just two working toilets between 84 girls - they now have 5. This huge improvement in hygiene standards has come at a crucial time.
So this is a brief summary on what we've been doing this year. I don’t take lightly the support and trust our supporters place in us to do right by these young people - every penny really does count, every penny has an impact.
Wishing all our supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.