With the World Health Organization reporting that more than 4.5 million cases of COVID-19 have now been recorded globally*, it is evident that the coronavirus pandemic remains a worldwide crisis. The Salvation Army now has COVID-19 responses in more than 100 of the 131 countries in which it officially operates.
Food security remains a major priority for The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services team, as many already-vulnerable people are suffering further with the breakdown of the subsistence approach. Hunger becomes an inevitable reality when even modest incomes become untenable.
In Angola, The Salvation Army has identified 2,000 individuals – primarily women – in great need of food assistance. Because of necessary government restrictions on movement, access to a reliable source of food has become impossible for these people, and The Salvation Army is stepping up to provide cereal, beans, oil, sugar and salt. These components of emergency food parcels are chosen because of their nutritional values, providing energy, protein, lipids and essential minerals.
Providing access to food for homeless people in Colombia and El Salvador is central to a new initiative being introduced by The Salvation Army in Latin America. Describing the COVID-19 situation facing people living rough as ‘horror over horror’, a project has launched to provide emergency groceries. Project Officer Ricardo Gomez explains: ‘[They] don’t have access to food supplies. They have been fired, and there is no one on the street so they cannot even beg. Common places to find shelter and bathroom [facilities] are closed.’
Meeting the needs of society’s most vulnerable people is not straightforward at a time such as this. Salvation Army personnel are developing new ways of ensuring health and safety while also providing essential support. Food is being portioned into disposable containers, in order to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Team members will use alcohol hand gel before and after each delivery, maintaining a distance of two metres. Face masks and gloves will be worn, and there will be frequent disinfection of surfaces touched. The health authorities in both countries are being regularly consulted.
Meanwhile, in India, a further challenge being addressed is that migrant workers in the transport industry have lost their jobs (and, therefore, income) while on the move. Many lorry drivers, for example, have not been able to return to their home – though some are endeavouring to rejoin their families by walking long distances. Food and clean drinking water are not routinely available on these arduous journeys, because roadside facilities are closed. The Salvation Army is undertaking a major logistical exercise to provide around 20,000 migrants with simple snack boxes, across ten divisions in the west of the country.
Assisting local authorities in the battle for public health is another lynchpin of The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response. In Uruguay, teams of officers and volunteers have been distributing cleaning and hygiene kits to those who live in the neighbourhoods of La Humedad and El Cerro, near Salto. This is part of an ongoing commitment to keep supporting them and to walk alongside the most susceptible communities during this health emergency.
Health awareness programmes are taking place in numerous locations. In Kenya, teams are disseminating information about coronavirus – and its control and prevention – to communities in Kakamega, Kolanya and Migori. House-to-house visitations are being undertaken, with all necessary precautions, to ensure that everyone hears the important hygiene messages. Community training is also being undertaken in strategic locations.
Naturally, The Salvation Army’s hospitals and clinics – many of which serve rural and vulnerable communities in which there is little other healthcare provision – are on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19. In Indonesia, there are six Salvation Army hospitals, treating an average of more than 6,400 patients per month, in East Palu, North Sulawesi and Java. In order to ensure the safety of service users and staff, additional personal protective equipment is being secured. Recognising the vital contribution of its hardworking staff, The Salvation Army is also providing doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers with vitamin supplements.
As a faith-based organisation, The Salvation Army is also addressing spiritual needs wherever possible. Many corps (churches) have used technology to ensure a continuity of Sunday worship, where meetings cannot take place in person. In Dublin, Ireland, online Sunday school materials are being provided along with craft activities for children and young people to engage with. On the nearby Isle of Man, mindful of the potential for increased levels of relationship breakdown brought about by the stresses of the continuing lockdown, The Salvation Army is promoting a free online marriage course.
The Salvation Army in Australia held a national Day of Prayer at the weekend, a precursor to a 21-day season of prayer which will commence on Pentecost Sunday – 31 May 2020. Territorial leaders Commissioners Robert and Janine Donaldson are keen to bathe The Salvation Army’s ongoing coronavirus response in prayer, stating: ‘As we see restrictions being eased, the question we all have is “what will this look like as we move forward?”’ To that end, members and people linked with The Salvation Army in Australia are being invited to assess and evaluate the way resources are being deployed. Participants are also encouraged to consider new ways of delivering services and encouraging people in their personal expressions of faith.
Social media is being used by all Salvation Army corps in Finland to provide a means by which people can request and receive prayer, while copies of Sotahuuto (The War Cry – The Salvation Army’s evangelistic newspaper) are being made available on request to social centre clients.
The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom reports that demand for The War Cry has increased by 16.5 per cent, with 15,000 copies being requested from prisons across the country. At least one inmate has written to report feeling ‘a connection to God’ through reading the publication. Anecdotal evidence suggests that interest in spiritual matters has increased during the quarantine, with Major Mark Sawyer – leader of The Salvation Army’s Norwich Citadel Corps in the east of England – reporting that more than 2,000 people have been tuning in to the online services each Sunday. This compares with the 300 worshippers who were attending Sunday worship at the corps before lockdown began.
While recognising that some of the enlarged congregation may be ‘church surfing’ from afar, Major Sawyer says: ‘I know from contacts that a good number don’t go to church or haven’t been for a long time, so definitely far more people are connecting through media … and tapping into church than did before.’ He adds: ‘Talking to other ministers – they’re seeing the same thing as well.’
* data correct as of 10:00 CEST, 19 May 2020