Webinar: civil society and innovative practice in a time of pandemic, 19 November

Report by Megan Bick, BEARR Trustee 

Kristina Spirina, Winds of Changes, Odessa, Ukraine 

Kristina began by acknowledging the BEARR Trust as the first donor to believe in them, a women’s initiative started 2018, and to fund their first project working with Roma women and girls. Since then they have run 5 projects in 18 months with the current one finishing at the end of December 2020. 

We have created a map of useful contacts for those needing to access essential social services using illustrations for clarity where language can be a problem, thanks to support from Pact, Ukraine 

We have invited medical personnel to give talks explaining current health issues – those related to COVID-19 as well as those which may be ignored due to the pandemic, sometimes helping them access a private clinic.

For those who struggle to afford these things we have provided them with PPE and produced informational leaflets explaining the dangers of COVID-19 and how to behave to stay safe.

We help women who have lost their employment during the pandemic to find alternative employment as unfortunately Roma women still suffer discrimination in the jobs market 

At the request of the women themselves we have provided access to sewing machine (her video featured a class teaching Roma women and girls to sew by hand and using sewing machines) and hairdressing skills. We also train women in new skills such as IT so that they can work in design, print their own cards, leaflets, brochures etc to advertise their own skills or help others do so.  

In addition to this we provide training in speaking English, social entrepreneurship and critical thinking to help the women and girls feel better prepared and more empowered to face challenges present and future. 

The training is fun, interactive, engaging, with the trainers using varied materials. Childcare facilities are provided so that mothers of young children can also take part. 

Kurbangol Kosimova of Nachoti-KudakonKhulob, Tajikistan 

This CSO, which was established in Khulob, a city in Southern Tajikistan in 1993 during the civil war by women who had lost loved ones and wanted to support others who found themselves in a similar situation. 

It provides a comprehensive service to women who are victims of domestic violence, often working through self-help groups. The support they provide ranges from trauma counselling to advice on setting up small businesses. 

The Women’s Resource Centre continues to work during the second wave of COVID-19. We have adapted to the new conditions by: 

  • Ensuring the health and safety of staff by disinfecting the premises and providing protective clothing and medicines 
  • Reinforcing consultation work by telephone: our hotline is linked to the Nachoti-Kudakon lawyer’s telephone and is open 24 hours a day 
  • Preparing food packages for female workers 
  • Publishing information booklets 

This has been made possible by support from The Coalition against Torture and Cruel Treatment and the Urgent Fund, showing once again that we can succeed only by co-operating and collaborating. 

For the past 26 years Nachoti-Kudakon has worked with communities in the remote mountainous area of Kulyab Region. Today in Tajikistan there are many national programmes aimed at developing and improving the lives of people in our country and eliminating domestic violence, but these programmes are in their infancy. 

“Caravan of Health” is our programme to help those with limited access to information and thus an inability to understand the full severity of COVID-19. We are currently carrying out information dissemination work – collecting information from various sources, translating it into the Tajik language and driving it to more remote communities. In addition we have had to provide direct, targeted assistance in the form of masks, food, medicines and antiseptics to the most vulnerable groups: the elderly, families, people with disabilities. 

In the most remote communities where transport is difficult at certain times of year, we have created volunteer groups of activists.  It would not be possible to solve the most urgent problems without their participation. The beneficiaries now have hope and the opportunity to improve their living conditions; our projects have begun to achieve results, although it is too early to speak about sustainable results, which require more work. 

The support we have received for our work was short-term, 4 months. We are asking international organisations, embassies and governments to maintain the essential work of the only Crisis Centre in the Kulyab Region. 

Anastasiya Stytsenko, Youth Volunteer Organisation: Leadership, KaracolKyrgystan 

Karacol has 15 years working to build young people’s capacity, in particular by developing volunteering and community spirit. 

During the pandemic we made three major changes to our practice, assisted throughout by the Kyrgyz diaspora: Improved co-ordination among CSOs. Prior to this we were all working separately with businesses, NGOs and government agencies all lacking co-ordination.  

  1. When the pandemic started volunteering became very popular as people wanted to participate in care-giving. This increase in civic activity was unprecedented in Kyrgystan and other Central Asian countries.  

    We share skills and approaches with local government so they can learn from what we were doing, for example our use of digitisation and social media. As the pandemic united us, it became possible to monitor the work of CSOs and agencies and achieve more tangible results. 
  2. We developed interactive tools and learned to manage databases, which was new in our society.

    During the 2-month lockdown many families lost their main source of income with people having to stay at home except for going to buy groceries or medicines or to go to the hospital. We collected information about those people most in need as well as those who could provide support in the form of counselling, legal assistance, food, medicines and PPE and mapped the data on an interactive map.  

    This map and the visualisation of data meant that we could compare need and the provision of humanitarian support. It also improved our effectiveness. 
  3. Development of digital internet resources: we revised the way we work so that we could continue operating as a youth organisation.  We introduced distance learning which reduced costs with open source sharing of tools. We could invite more participants and engage larger audiences to on-line events than we could to meetings in person. 

    But on-line learning and events don’t facilitate team-building. We held an online summer school for young and adult volunteers. We were able to identify strengths and weaknesses in our work and the work of others, including the government. 

The pandemic has shown what a vibrant civil society we have now, with both younger and older people very much seeing themselves as proactive agents of change. I commend our countrymen and women for their kindness and care for others – the pandemic was a new challenge for us all and we worked well together, individuals and governmental agencies, to ease the situation and change the world for the better. 

Birodar Mirzaev of the Centre for the Support of Civic Initiatives, Fergana, Uzbekistan  

The Centre for the Support of Civic Initiatives works with women needing legal and psychological support as well as business advice. This is a branch of a network which is active in 6 regions. The Fergana region is densely populated with 33% of the country’s population living here. 

We work directly with women, but this year we also worked with other institutes and agencies who also provide services women. In 2019, on 2 September, Uzbekistan adopted a new law on equal opportunities for women and men.  

Another of our main roles is raising awareness of gender-based violence.  We are building capacity with partner organisations especially on the Rights of the Child. During the pandemic we have focused on 3 areas (reduced from 8 in the past): 

  1. Engaging with our target group, women in crisis, by providing legal assistance, psychological counselling and vocational training in needlework. Mostly services were on-line where previously women had come to our offices. We ran a hotline for legal aid. Volunteer psychologists provided support online too. Our vocational training courses had to be adapted to ones that could be provided online.  

    There was a spike in reports of domestic violence and some crisis centres opened but the staff did not always know how to work with the women so we supported them. We developed training modules and social advertising to raise awareness of domestic violence, working more with young people and having a contest for them.  

    In 2019 we received 877 appeals for assistance; in 2020 we provided assistance to a total of 1380 women in the first 9 months of the year, mostly online rather than face to face. 
  2. Co-operating with partner organisations working on the elimination of discrimination in the home and at work. The new law on equality has led to many new crisis centres being set up around the country over the past year, many of these lacking in experience. We developed procedures for inter-agency coordination so that women who came to them they would get the best possible support with an effective referral mechanism to various stakeholders. 
  3. Monitoring the effectiveness of the legislative framework protecting civil society. Our lawyers worked on developing the law on CSOs. We conducted monitoring of the social partnership act.  

In answer to questions all the speakers said that during the pandemic there have been changes for the better, in particular greater co-operation and the use of on-line learning, where people can access it. On the negative side there has been a drop in the amount of activity of SMEs as the economic climate is not good for existing or new businesses.  

The changes which will survive the pandemic are: the interactive map of resources for people in need; the use of IT skills – young people can train their grandparents; on-line services.  

The internet is generally available, except in remote regions, but many people cannot afford the equipment. 

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