Vincentians across the world have stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19. From soup kitchens in Peru to preventing the spread of the virus in the slums of the Philippines or offering financial and spiritual support for refugees in Rwanda, Vincentians replied to the cry of the poor at the most difficult time.
Although COVID-19 has presented a massive challenge for Vincentians projects and services all over the world, this is not new. As Father Bob Maloney CM reminded us, Vincent de Paul himself had to respond to the pandemics of his time. Vincent taught us that, no matter what, we must never abandon the poor, but we must take all reasonable precautions to protect our health in serving the poor at a time like this.
The Famvin Homeless Alliance couldn’t stand aside, and so the 13 Houses Campaign expanded to include a Vincentian Response to the pandemic. This Campaign has housed close to 5000 people thanks to the collaboration between Vincentians branches. Homelessness was already a global tragedy, but COVID-19 and the measures to contain it will make it worse.
We launched an emergency appeal that has collected more than $70 000 during the first few weeks, but we need much more to support all the projects! Our appeal is covering Vincentian initiatives in Angola, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Lebanon, Madagascar, Peru (2 projects), Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ukraine.
Vincentians have provided food, financial and spiritual assistance, and protective equipment to homeless people, vulnerable groups and frontline workers. These initiatives involved a wide range of Vincentian branches, many of them working in very difficult environments. Some projects were already part of the 13 Houses Campaign, like the Congregation of the Mission in Lebanon or “Color Esperanza” in Peru welcoming Venezuelan refugees. Other joined as a result of the appeal, like the Vincentian Marian Youth initiative in Dominican Republic or MISEVI in Angola and Bolivia.
We have been sharing the stories of those who have found some relief thanks to this work. For example Véronique, 91, lives in the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda. Here the local Chaplain, Father Henri Matsinga CM (an FHA volunteer ambassador), has been providing her with spiritual and economic support during the lockdown.
Or Ihor, who moved between cities in Ukraine just before the lockdown and couldn’t find a new job in time. Depaul Ukraine helped him to get a job and a shelter and now he’s planning to rent a flat to bring his family together when quarantine is over.
In the next few weeks and months, as the first wave of COVID-19 recedes, the number of homeless people around the world could explode. In the United States alone, a study forecast an increase of more than 45% in the next year due to the economic consequences of the lockdown and the lack of safety nets. This will make the Vincentian efforts and collaboration more relevant than ever.