Promote, improve, inspire: WaterAid Canada’s response to COVID-19

Promote, improve, inspire: WaterAid Canada’s response to COVID-19

While water and soap are considered basic household items in Canada, for many around the world it is normal to live without them. Data shows that 40% of households worldwide do not have handwashing facilities. As a result, handwashing is not a widespread practice, which heightens the risk of spreading illnesses, including COVID-19. Although recent figures show that the pandemic has not yet affected low and middle-income countries to the extent that it has affected high-income countries, concern is growing about the effects of the pandemic in countries that have fewer resources to tackle the crisis. Low and middle-income countries often have restricted access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, and many healthcare facilities are ill-equipped to deal with the scale of COVID-19. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 in these countries, and preventing its devastating impacts, has never been as urgent.

To support the urgent need for WASH, CCIC member WaterAid Canada has channelled its expertise and knowledge to scale up efforts to promote hygiene, improve WASH facilities and inspire lasting behaviour changes to fight the pandemic.

“WASH, a no regrets intervention”

WaterAid Canada in the time of COVID-19

WaterAid Canada has always promoted good handwashing practices as part of its ongoing WASH programming. While COVID-19 has not changed the organization’s priorities, its impact objectives have expanded significantly. WaterAid Canada’s work is centered around four main objectives to reflect the urgency of the pandemic:

  1. Access to water for basic handwashing and cleanliness – providing essentials like soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to the most vulnerable people;
  2. Support for service providers – ensuring service maintenance with minimal disruptions;
  3. Reduction of COVID-19 transmission at communal water facilities – installation of handwashing stations in healthcare facilities, densely populated public areas and in rural locations; and
  4. Advocacy – campaigning to governments and authorities for continued, sustained and inclusive delivery of water and hygiene services, during and after the pandemic.

With its 37 years of experience and as a global leader in hygiene promotion, WaterAid Canada is working to support national governments and local civil society organizations to promote hygiene behaviours that will prevent the spread of the virus. WaterAid Canada teams are observing restrictions and assisting partners to ensure that their work does not endanger anyone or contribute to the spread of the virus. In many cases, the organization connects with other WASH agencies to coordinate joint efforts aligned with World Health Organization WASH recommendations. Currently, work is underway in urban and peri-urban areas, with the goal of reaching rural areas soon. The organization is also assisting in the design of hygiene promotion materials that will be disseminated through large media campaigns and amplified in areas that are more at risk than others. Materials intend to familiarize at-risk populations with WHO recommended practices that will prevent the spread of COVID-19.

WaterAid Canada understands tackling an invisible enemy, like COVID-19, is not an overnight endeavour. In an effort to scale-up its day-to-day operations to respond to the threat, it has developed a two-phase response that includes curbing the spread of the virus through hygiene promotion, and support for governments and key decision-makers followed by a reassessment and long-term planning. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 is not an endeavour WaterAid Canada can confront alone – a pandemic of this sort requires prevention, protection and curative interventions from all WASH sector agencies. As such, WaterAid has put together a comprehensive list of 11 contributions the WASH sector can make in responding to the pandemic, in addition to response dos and don’ts for the sector.

Fatoumata Sogoba whashes her hands after she came to the Diaramana Health Centre for an antenatal consultation, Mali.

Fatoumata Sogoba washes her hands after visiting the health centre for an antenatal consultation, at Diaramana Health Centre, Cercle de Bla, Segou Region, Mali. April 2018. (WaterAid/ Guilhem Alandry)

A well-equipped sector is a sustainable sector

It has become apparent that the impacts of COVID-19 will be long and profound, and the reality that awaits us, and more importantly, the most marginalized, is unknown. Safe access to clean water, appropriate sanitation, good hygiene and basic healthcare during a pandemic is crucial. WaterAid Canada has harnessed its expertise, shifted operations, and widened its reach to take on this crisis.

The need for proper WASH practice and facilities in this crisis is vital but the sector also requires long term solutions. WaterAid Canada is committed to protecting the most marginalized from the immediate crisis, while also equipping the WASH sector with human rights-based solutions that will have long-term impacts. Having the resources to prevent future outbreaks and support basic human dignity should be normal, for everyone, everywhere.

*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC).

* This blog is the fourth in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. CCIC will continue to showcase the stories of solidarity, resilience and innovation from our sector in the coming weeks. We may be physically distant, but our members are more connected than ever in their efforts to combat the impacts of our shared global challenge with strength, humility and grace.

Featured photo: Sashi, a Chikankari worker is pictured washing her hands before she cooks meals for her family in Sadamau, on the outskirts of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India on 20 December 2019. (WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee)

Call to localization in the time of COVID-19

Now in its 100th year of service, with experience in more than 50 countries during times of calm and crisis, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has learned again and again the value of working with local partners to shape and customize programs. Standardized best practices and multilateral coordination are essential in times of complex global crisis, but they are not sufficient to ensure an effective response.

In the case of COVID-19, we are all facing the same microbe impacting the same basic human biology. On one level, this is a medical problem, with likely universal technical solutions. Highly standardized programming may seem to be the most effective and efficient approach to reach the most people.

Unfortunately, our world is too complex for one-size-fits-all approaches, even when we are all facing the same virus. A key lesson of MCC’s century of experience is that standardized responses are damaging and counterproductive if they are not balanced with deep localization of the work. When programs are imposed without local ownership, they are frequently ineffective and even resisted. When local priorities are ignored, project activities and resources are often redirected and subverted. When people’s values and culture are not respected, communities are unlikely to engage let alone change deeply ingrained behaviours.

As MCC and our local partners around the world respond to COVID-19, we are striving to to be a bridge between the global and the local, the academic and the practical, international “best practices’” and what is wanted and needed on the ground. The reality is that COVID-19 will not have the same impact around the world or between groups, and neither should it have the same response. Factors such as income level, displacement, citizenship, age, gender, social inclusion, and access to health care that made communities and individuals vulnerable before the pandemic will be there during the virus’ outbreak

While it often means smaller, more customized projects, MCC has tried to prioritize this understanding in our response to the pandemic. For example, in Mwenezi, Zimbabwe, the community asked that the COVID-19 response be built in a way that would leave the community better positioned to also deal with cholera and other waterborne diseases they struggled with before the pandemic. In Assosa and Bambasi, Ethiopia, farmers asked us to work with them and the government to develop strategies that would also protect the harvest and safeguard the gains that were so painstakingly won over years of community agriculture work. In Nikopol, Ukraine, the local priority was to protect those without homes and the frontline staff who cared for them. In Haiti, while some partners safely scaled back community-facing work, others like our sexual and gender-based violence response partner in Bomon had to sustain and expand work that was made more difficult, yet more necessary, by the pandemic.

Effective, cost efficient programming requires deep local knowledge, adaptation and ownership as well as international best practices and coordination. As Canadian NGOs, we are well positioned to be this bridge and help facilitate sustainable, contextually informed and evidence-based work around the world through our local partners. As a sector, our learnings about the importance of localization cannot be put aside in this time of crisis. It is needed now more than ever.


Photo caption: Emma Themistoc, head of MCC partner SOFA (Solidarity with Haitian Women by its in initials in Haitian Kreyol) in Beaumont, Haiti. These rural offices, called Daybreak Centers, support women who have suffered gender-based violence by accompanying them through legal and medical processes, providing microcredit, and offering psychological and social support. Emma has been a key voice advocating for sustaining and increasing this work during the pandemic, despite the increased challenges COVID-19 poses, recognizing the need to respond to increasing incidents of gender-based violence. (MCC photo/ Annalee Giesbrecht)


* This blog is the third in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping an eye on COVID-19: Operation Eyesight’s approach to leveraging its network in times of crisis

Keeping an eye on COVID-19: Operation Eyesight’s approach to leveraging its network in times of crisis

COVID-19 is a health crisis whose impacts will devastate economies and increase inequality around the world. In addition to concerns here at home, there is also a striking and urgent realization that health systems in developing countries are not equipped with the means necessary to cope with the current and rapidly evolving impact of the pandemic. Recent figures outline a rise in numbers of cases throughout Latin America, Africa and South Asia, and, give way to fears of subsequent waves of pandemic peaks, particularly as China battles a second resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Many of Canada’s civil society partners operate in countries around the world where health systems need support and have the ability to respond quickly and with flexibility. With partners overseas working at reduced capacity in the face of the pandemic, Canadian partners are playing a much-needed role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the negative socio-economic impacts of the virus on communities and vulnerable populations. 


In this context, CCIC member, Operation Eyesight, is pivoting its work, that typically focuses on eye health, to leverage its network of partner hospitals around the world to support effective, community led responses to the pandemic. 


Flattening the curve 

Operation Eyesight is harnessing its relations with government and partner hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to help “flatten the curve.” Operation Eyesight, with program teams already located in partner countries around the world, is in a unique position to maintain its commitment to sustainability and empower communities on a larger scale.  On April 13th, the organization launched its COVID-19 response that will leverage local resources and expertise, easing the delivery of service for those in need. Kenyan staff are helping Kenyan citizens, working in ways that are locally grounded, and as such, effective. 

Operation Eyesight’s response is also focused on addressing the increased challenges women and girls face as the primary caretakers in most families. With good hygiene and handwashing as the first line of defence against COVID-19, Operation Eyesight continues to focus programming on clean water, safe hygiene promotion and sanitation through access to hand washing stations, soap and hygiene kits. Shortages of medical supplies are also a significant challenge – in Canada – but also in other parts of the world. Operation Eyesight is ensuring essential supplies such as sanitizers, soap and medication for eye infections remain accessible. Finally, as a novel virus that is rapidly evolving and with new research emerging daily on the impacts of and measure to prevent COVID-19, healthcare workers and frontline staff need access to the most up-to-date information at all times. Operation Eyesight has begun educating front line health workers on infection, prevention and control measures. It is also supporting the distribution of educational materials related to COVID-19 to keep front line health workers and the most vulnerable informed.  


Hospital partners have improved capacities to respond 

Operation Eyesight works with 55 partner hospitals in 6 countries to train frontline workers, nurses and community health workers on prevention, infection and control measures for Covid-19.  The organization plans to reach 600 000 individuals in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, Zambia and Nepal through their health awareness and educational activities with a focus on women, girls and persons with disabilities. They are also ensuring Vision centres and hospitals are implementing strict sterilization protocols to make them COVID-19 free. 


Supporting the prevention of community transmission  

Through door-to-door distribution of health materials in local languages as well as hygiene kits, Operation Eyesight and its partners are working to prevent community transmission of the virus. In addition, they plan to install hand washing stations at water points, schools and vision centres across Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, India and Nepal. These will not only help families in need but also serve as demonstration units for the broader community to build their own. In Zambia, they plan to rehabilitate 60 boreholes to bring a clean source of water to rural areas.  


A community health worker distributes hygiene materials in India.


Empowering communities to become leaders    

In communities across 6 countries, Operation Eyesight will provide training to over 1500 community health workers to educate communities, with a particular emphasis on women, girls and people with disabilities. Village level water, sanitation and hygiene committees will be formed to train members to adopt appropriate hand washing and social distancing practices critical for the prevention of COVID-19. This approach aims to empower communities in their own response to the pandemic and prevent hospitals and health systems from being overwhelmed.  

Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector is quickly pivoting to meet new demands. Organizations like Operation Eyesight are demonstrating Canadians’ commitment to assisting those in need around the world. Quick and determined action and shifting operations are not only helping the most vulnerable abroad but act as a symbol of Canada’s response to a challenge that is faceless and knows no borders. Canadian civil society organizations are key to the global response to COVID-19. Their ability to quickly shift gears, leverage relationships and openness embody the innovation required to address the current climate and ensure that we recover better going forward.  




*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). 


* This blog is the second in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Save the Children’s COVID-19 learning pathway: Resources for everyone and anyone

Canada’s international cooperation sector, like others, is part of the frontline response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily operations are changing. Events have been cancelled. Schools, businesses and government buildings are closed unless essential. Physical distancing is a part of our functioning and the main tool to help control the spread of the virus. And as we all adapt to this new reality, Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector is innovating to support local communities in Canada and abroad, to hold fast hard won sustainable development gains and help Canada and the world emerge stronger, more connected and resilient than ever.   


At the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, we are committed to sharing stories of solidarity and innovation as Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector responds to the crisis. The first in this series, we are excited to share four ways our member Save the Children is supporting the most vulnerable communities here at home and communities abroad. 


  1. An action agenda to protect hard won gains for children 

The organization’s 5 point Agenda for Action to Protect a Generation from COVID-19 seeks to encourage Canada to come together with the international community at-large in global solidarity to deliver the following actions to protect a generation of children’s rights: 


  • Disease containment and mitigation 
  • Global financing 
  • Support for family finances 
  • Education and learning 
  • Children’s safety and protection 


  1. Adapting to new realities

In response to COVID-19, the organization has quickly developed a COVID-19 Program Adaptation Framework and Guidance tool, in order to provide a steer guidance for its 120 Country Offices to  identify appropriate adaptations based on context and phasing of the crisis ((Preparedness, Initial Response, Large-scale response, Recovery), recognizing that communities and programs will move through different phases at different times and through different waves of an outbreak throughout an entire 12 – 18 month (or more) period. .  The guide can also be used by other CSOs or national responders.  This effort is meant to guide Save the Children Country Offices to help to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and to the extent possible, preserve children’s rights to survive, learn and be protected.  


  1. Helping to keep children’s education on track

In an effort to fight COVID-19, schools across Canada have closed to control the spread of the virus. Valuable instruction and learning time for children is being lost as a result. Save the Children’s commitment to helping children and families in uncertain times is no different in the context of this pandemic. The organization has developed highly accessible and innovative resources to support and keep children’s health, mental well being and learning on track during this time, and beyond. Resources include a how-to talk to children about coronavirus, suggestions for relaxation and family learning activities, tips on incorporating reading, math and numeracy skills in daily routines, and even tips for grandparents staying connected to grandchildren during separation. 


  1. Educating diverse stakeholders on COVID-19

In collaboration with Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Save the Children has also set up a COVID-19 learning pathway, on Kaya, a global learning platform. This resource focuses on capacity strengthening of its audience through up to date tools, resources, training and educational videos that enable quick, informed and efficient responses to COVID-19 for the international development and humanitarian sectors, and beyond. The pathway contains e-learning programmes for support to humanitarian responses, soft skills and remote working capacity strengthening, a library of downloadable resources related to work and operations in the context of a pandemic, and key sector guidelines and policies, to name a few. Resources, courses and videos cover a range of critical topics such as public health, child protection, education, gender, leadership and management, wellbeing and resilience. The user-friendly platform, accessible on mobile, computer and in a variety of languages, is tailored for just about anyone seeking to improve their skills and knowledge to better prepare and respond to crises overall, not just COVID-19. Since its launch in mid-March, the platform has been accessed by over 3000 people from partners all over Canada. 


Like other members of our sector, Save the Children is showing its commitment to innovate and support families and children during times of uncertainty – whether it be in the field or through online learning opportunities such as COVID-19 learning pathway.  Confined to our homes, Save the Children is harnessing e-learning to make the most of this difficult time through platforms accessible to all.  


This is the kind of leadership and innovation that Canadians have come to expect from Canada’s international cooperation community. In the coming weeks, CCIC will showcase the stories of solidarity, resilience and innovation from our sector. We may be physically distant, but our members are more connected than ever in their efforts to combat the impacts of our shared global challenge with strength, humility and grace.  




*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). 


* This blog is the first in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A conspiracy with hope

A conspiracy with hope

For International Development Week 2020, we are showcasing the impact that our member organizations are having around the world. This blog post, from Jennifer Henry of KAIROS, is the third in a special series. Make sure to read it and share it with your network!


i have rarely seen anything as beautiful as the group of women and children who gathered to meet the KAIROS delegation in Thabra in the West Bank. About 30 women and young children, all so incredibly welcoming with smiles and handshakes, greeting our delegation of ten Canadian church leaders and staff to Palestine and Israel. They told us later that international folk rarely visit, and if they do, it is certainly not to listen to women living under occupation. 

This visit was the first of four meetings with women’s groups supported by KAIROS and Global Affairs Canada and led by Lucy Talgieh, Women’s Project Coordinator of Wi’am: Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center.  In these groups, women find friendship and psycho-social support as well as learn about human rights and building capacity for leadership in peacebuilding. Wi’am is a vital part of Palestinian civil society providing a space where Palestinian communities learn about reconciliation, discuss conflict resolution, and imagine a life that is not lived under occupation. 

In Thabrathe surroundings for the women’s group were meagre. Chairs were a recent addition, paid for from a staff person’s own pocket. But the hospitality was generous and the conversation animated and powerful. And the children…well, they warmed every heart. 

The women were anxious to share. They told us about how they are solving local garbage collection issues and strategizing to improve access to health services. The nearest clinic is a very long walk away and not always open. The women spoke proudly about how they were learning about their rights, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and what a difference it was making in both their capacity to protect themselves from violence, and in the possibility of moving towards greater leadership in their communities.  

Here in the West Bank, the occupation means misery and terror. That day we also visited Beit Umar, where we met a woman who has five imprisoned sons. Most of the women in that group had at least one relative in prison. The constant presence of heavily armed Israeli soldiers makes them fear for their children as any move that can be perceived as provocative can lead to immediate detention or even trigger a lethal response.  

Many spoke of ever more aggressive restrictions on access to land and agriculture. All face ongoing humiliation and challenges moving about the area. Lack of consistent access to employment or even to basic needs such as clean water are daily hardships. Even as visitors, our delegation risked settling into despair as we listened to the women’s stories. 

As a delegation of Indigenous people, settlers and newcomers, the commonalities between the struggles in this contested place and in Canada and other countries were not lost on us. Dispossession, lack of access to basic services, restrictions on movement, loss of control over resources, violence, particularly against women – these are common experiences in Indigenous communities the world over, an acknowledgement that was always unsettling. 

And yet, what we experienced in these women’s groups, in Thabra and Beit Umar, and others in Jericho and Bethlehem, was pure hope. They said it themselves. In Beit Umar, one of our delegates asked where the women found their hope in the face of the relentless injustices of the occupation. This group of largely Muslim women responded, “Our faith in God of course.” Then Mariam added, “This is also what gives me hope – this place where we come together as a group to heal, train, learn, have fun together, and empower ourselves.”  

What is hope if it isn’t coming together? Coming together to embolden one another in the face of grief, loss and despair. Coming together to borrow energy, optimism, possibility when you can’t find it alone. Coming together to be stronger than one person can be, something even more than the sum of our parts. Being together as a diverse delegation nurtured hope; being together with our hosts across these beautiful, aching lands confirmed hope. 

Maybe it was unexpected, but this day we came to the West Bank and saw, heard, and yes, even tasted, hope in Arabic coffee and olives, warm bread and zaatar. We dreamed of ways that these women, who gather in the West Bank to create hope and build alternatives, could meet women gathered in Canada in Indigenous or migrant communities. We know they would recognize courage and resilience in each other, and hope would spread like light.  


Jennifer Henry has served as the Executive Director of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives since 2012.  She has worked in ecumenical social justice for over 26 years. 


Deepening democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Deepening democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

For International Development Week 2020, we are showcasing the impact that our member organizations are having around the world. This blog post from Development and Peace is the second in a special series. Make sure to read it and share it with your network!


A people-power project 

After decades of civil war and political turmoil, the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were hoping for an orderly transfer of power through elections scheduled for November 2016. Well before then, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada’s long-time partner, the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO), had realized that attaining and sustaining true democracy would require an empowered citizenry.  


To that end, Development and Peace and CENCO, with a generous grant of $9.778 million from Global Affairs Canada, launched an ambitious civic and electoral education project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in early 2016.  


A massive movement  

Over a two-year period, the project organized five national campaigns whose highlights included:  

  • The training of 10,000 facilitators across the country’s 26 provinces 
  • The delivery of 900,000 workshops on democracy, rights, citizenship and community living 
  • The civic education of nearly 20 million Congolese citizens (a majority being women and youths) 
  • The production of Lingala-, Tshiluba-, Kikongo- and Swahili-language radio shows on civic issues featuring locally popular actors 
  • The broadcast of these shows on 80 radio stations to an estimated 10 million listeners 


In 2018, when elections were finally held after several delays, the 10,000 facilitators deployed as observers at polling stations nationwide. By monitoring the elections and encouraging people to vote, they helped bring about a long-awaited democratic change of guard.  


An ongoing effort  

Currently, the project is mobilizing people to demand local-level elections to counter the undemocratic tendency to appoint local officials by federal patronage. Signed by 2 million citizens, the petition for this demand is already the largest in Congolese history. Additional workshops are sensitizing people to the need to overcome tribalism, reject violence and encourage women to vie for political office. To secure a democratic future, the project is pilot testing new civic and moral education textbooks in 500 classrooms.  


Pursuing sustainable development goals  

By fostering equitable democratic participation, Development and Peace and CENCO have advanced the sustainable development goals of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Gender Equality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The citizenry now knows its rights better; understands the power of peaceful, cooperative action; is likelier to support women; and is more able and willing to hold power to account.  



Development and Peace – Caritas Canada is the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada. It works in partnership with local organizations in over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East to create greater justice in the world and to act in solidarity with the most vulnerable.