Support to Vulnerable People during COVID-19 Pandemic in the Jimma City, Oromia region, Ethiopia
By Birhanu Fufa, Department of Social Work, Jimma University, Ethiopia
Ethiopia recorded the first positive case of COVID-19 on 13 March 2020. By 29 March, the Ministry of Health announced the first coronavirus related death in the country. On 7th April, a total of 1077 confirmed cases marked the beginning of local transmission of the virus.
In response, the government closed schools, universities, and nurseries and banned international travel from 80 countries. In addition, the government urged the public to take preventive measures such as regular hand washing, social distancing, wearing face masks, and working from home. However, marginalized segments of the population were the hardest hit by government response measures because these significantly impacted upon their way of life. By and large, homeless people had lost the source of income that they were earning from begging due to the closure of mosques, churches, and the restrictions on people’s movements throughout the city. Besides, these people were unable to apply public health advice due to a lack of accessibility to sanitary materials and protective equipment like face masks. While COVID-19 cases have been spiking across the country, there has been no attention given to homeless people to gain access to proper sanitation supplies.
To reach out to those people through this pandemic, social work academics at Jimma University announced the initiative of solidarity, a fundraising campaign run collaboratively with colleagues in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. We have raised USD300 in the first week of the solidarity fundraising campaign. Having raised the money, we purchased sanitary materials including packets of laundry soap, packets of body soap, and bottles of hand washing soap. All these sanitation items were distributed to 200 beneficiaries comprised of older people living on streets and prisoners.
Furthermore, similar actions have been taken by other colleagues to organize a university-wide relief support campaign for the most vulnerable people living in Jimma City. As a result, volunteer academics and support staff donated a minimum of 30% of a month’s salary to help people living on the margins of our societies. Following that, 4 million Ethiopian birrs (USD110, 904.66) were donated in 3 monthly instalments from April to June 2020. A total of 3263 needy people were provided with food relief and sanitary materials that included 15kg of wheat flour, 5 kg of rice, 3 litres of oil, 2 kg of salt, 4 kg of cereals, 2 pieces of body soap, and 2 pieces of laundry soap for each person.
After successfully completing the distribution of these materials, we felt extreme happiness and mental satisfaction because of the smiles that we observed on the faces of the beneficiaries who also thanked the university community for their support and solidarity. Beyond offering this immediate assistance, the university leadership and local councils have agreed to work together in the future to establish a centre of volunteerism and food banks in the local area.