Ending hunger during a pandemic: Stories from Yemen and India

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
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The following is a snapshot of some of the frontline workers around the world who are doing the essential work of fighting hunger during a pandemic.

Alya Humaidi, Yemen

Alya Humaidi helps ensure that families facing extreme hunger in her home country of Yemen receive the emergency food they need to survive. She is a staff member of ADRA Yemen, and she works on projects supported by the Foodgrains Bank, through ADRA Canada.

“One person is powerful enough to make a change. Even if the change is as big as fighting hunger.”

Coming from some people, those words might seem trite. But coming from Alya Humaidi, a young woman working to make sure people in Marib and Dhamar Governorates, Yemen who are on the brink of starvation have access to food, one can’t help but pay attention.

Alya works as a program officer for ADRA Yemen, the partner of Foodgrains Bank member ADRA Canada. She is just one example of a frontline worker in the fight against global hunger who has had to adapt, both personally and professionally, to the challenge of delivering food to people in need while the world changed around her.

Alya runs emergency food distribution programs responding to the needs of people affected by Yemen’s ongoing conflict. It’s a conflict that’s been raging the last five years and it has devastated the lives of the ordinary people, like Alya, who call it home.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for Alya’s work hasn’t stopped. People are hungry, and it’s her job to make sure they receive emergency food. In the project, with ADRA Canada, 7,700 people receive food vouchers they exchange for flour, rice, beans, oil, sugar and salt. Many of the families who receive the help are displaced from other parts of Yemen due to conflict, and are headed by single mothers. Special priority is being given to households with children under five. In her own words:

COVID hit humanitarian organizations like ADRA [Yemen] hard, and the communities in need as well. We had to scale back our nutrition programming, for example.

Honestly it was very hard at the beginning, but then I got used to sanitizing everything and staying at home and talk to my other family members and friends via conference calls. It didn’t mean that much not being able to travel since the airport has been closed for over 5 years. 

The biggest change personally for me was having to worry about my father who has a rare disease along with a heart condition…

The biggest change personally for me was having to worry about my father who has a rare disease along with a heart condition that made me become paranoid about him catching the virus. We changed our clothes in the front yard before entering the house. We washed the groceries and the bags. Almost everything was sanitised before entering the house.

During my work-from home time, I designed face masks with a Yemeni touch. I posted the designs on Facebook for fun and a huge positive feedback came back. People were excited to wear them.

I believe one person can make a change. My father taught me that if each individual does their best to take care of their circle, they will make a change in the world. I think everyone has grown so much faith in God and what’s meant to be will happen.

It takes one person to start something. One person is powerful enough to make a change. Even if the change is big as fighting hunger.

Pabitra Paramanya and Mukul Harishchandra, India

Pabitra Paramanya coordinates food security work for Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee in India. His work throughout the pandemic has helped ensure the work of responding to hunger continues, in spite of many challenges.

Pabitra Paramanya and Mukul Harishchandra coordinate food security work for our member Mennonite Central Committee in India. They work with local partners to help small-scale farmers, including some indigenous communities, improve their farming and earn a living. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve adapted how they live and work in order to continue serving the vulnerable communities experiencing hunger. But in a bustling country of over one billion people, that hasn’t been easy.

In their own words:

Mukul: On the 24th of March, a total lockdown was announced with only four hours notice. This was a shocking experience as citizens in India were not given any time to prepare for the lockdown. In India, people migrate to work thousands of kilometers away from home.  The country suddenly came to a standstill, the trains, buses, taxis, flights, and all means of public/private transport were stopped. Millions of people lost their livelihood and they had no other option than to return home. But the irony was no means of travel was available, so men, women and children started walking on foot, or on bicycles. It was difficult for them even to buy food as all the eateries were also closed. Many people died on the way due to hunger or sickness.

Pabitra: Just two weeks before the pandemic began, we hosted the Foodgrains Bank tour. We enjoyed community lunches, large gatherings in village meetings, we danced together, enjoyed marketing in local shops, and held roundtable meetings. So, I was very thankful to God that the Foodgrains Bank tour group left India very much at the right time and safely arrived in their provinces without any hassle.

It was good to see that our farmers, who had a good amount of vegetables in their gardens, sharing lots of vegetables with their neighbors.

I have seen in some of the areas in which MCC works ‘neighbours helping neighbours’. The lockdown period was at a season when many farmers had shortages of kitchen garden vegetables. It was good to see that our farmers, who had a good amount of vegetables in their gardens, sharing lots of vegetables with their neighbors, either freely or cheaper than the market rate.

We were also pleased to learn that local governments in areas where MCC and the Foodgrains Bank work showed good trust in local partner staff as they included them in their pandemic response teams.

Mukul: Things were very uncertain and there was a fear in everyone’s mind, but then we started sharing devotions in our staff WhatsApp group. Now every Tuesday morning we have devotions together through Zoom app and we invite someone from outside of MCC to share the word of God. This sharing gives us strength to overcome all the fear and continue to work.

Pabitra: I have taught my daughter (reading in kindergarten) how to use zoom platform to attend online classes as her school started online classes over zoom. I spend good time in roof top gardening, recycled many plastic bottles into flowerpot.

My main work challenge was to quickly learn to manage every single action digitally or virtually. As it was the time to start the new fiscal year, lot of paperwork was required, and all had to be done virtually. Communication with partners/communities through phone calls, text messages, Whatsapp video call & messages doubled. I spent time training partner staff to use these digital platforms. But despite our capacities, poor mobile networks still pose a lot of challenges. There was also fear of being hacked, while many fake messages about COVID-19 also circulated.

We are profoundly grateful to Alya, Mukul, Pabitra, and indeed, all frontline workers around the world who are making a difference in their communities while we come together during this pandemic. Thank you for all you do!

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