Giving a hand in corona times
‘Tode Mendol’ is the largest settlement in Kumanovo with over 30,000 inhabitants, but at the same time the poorest one, with over 12,000 users of social welfare. The corona outbreak only worsened the situation. The charitable association Mother Teresa has been working hard to assist vulnerable groups in the circumstances. Bekim Saliu, president of the association, lists among their beneficiaries a family with seven children without money to buy pencils for four of them who have to find a way to continue their education at home, or single mothers with babies that cannot afford to buy diapers. Mother Teresa is one of the seven sub-grantees of the Civil Society Resource Centre, an EU-funded project, under the extraordinary call for civil society organisations’ urgent response to COVID-19. The association is distributing packages with hygienic products, school equipment and logic games to economically disadvantaged households, as well as brochures with information on how to protect from the virus. In the period from 1 May until the end of July, the sub-grantees will distribute humanitarian aid to 550 families at social risk or other vulnerable groups including Roma population, the LGBTI community, refugees, farmers and victims of domestic violence, a phenomenon that is on the rise globally in the conditions of lockdown. The National Council for Gender Equality, another sub-grantee, is managing an SOS line aimed at helping victims of domestic violence. One of the objectives of the sub-grant is to increase the visibility and the access to their SOS line in order to ensure that victims or potential victims of domestic violence can easily contact them and be sure that these SOS lines are free of charge, totally confidential and including free counselling by a psychologist.
Humanost association from Skopje, which focuses on helping people at social risk, as a sub-grantee of Hera organisation, set up teams of volunteers that, in cooperation with the Municipality of Centar and local businesses, organised distribution of food and medicine to elderly citizens, thus helping them to stay at home and not unnecessarily expose themselves to the risk of contagion. "During April, our teams made 40 visits to the elderly in our community and distributed 1 tone of milk and more than 3 tons of food items”, says Sashko Jovanov, Executive Director of Humanost. V.P., beneficiary of the services of Humanost, is grateful for this help. "The coronavirus has made us stay in isolation. I am 75 and I live with my daughter who is disabled. We both belong to the vulnerable group”, she says. There were two other sub-grantees of Hera. Roma Progress organised sewing and distribution of protection masks to the most vulnerable citizens in the municipality of Shuto Orizari while educating them on their usage. Cherenja organisation offered free laundry services to socially disadvantaged families in Shtip.
The Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women distributed educational materials, especially among Roma, about how to take care of pregnant women and children in the time of corona, how to attenuate the stigma of infected people and how to prevent domestic violence in the conditions of home confinement. With sub-grants from an UNDP-implemented project on local democracy, NGOs from Kumanovo, Strumica and Kavadarci distributed 146 humanitarian packages to families at social risk and other vulnerable groups in these towns. The Association for Human Housing HABITAT procured 500 hygienic parcels for the most vulnerable families in the municipality of Shuto Orizari. Centro Laici Italiani Per Le Missioni Associata distributed to 100 Roma families in Vinica food and hygienic packages. Eko-svest NGO distributed 1,000 masks to citizens. NGO CeProSARD procured personal protective equipment for Demir Kapija Institute for people with intellectual disabilities. Business and Strategies in Europe S.A provided over 30 municipalities with face masks and disinfectants. A project meant to help the country to improve its border and migration management provided the border police with 3,000 pieces of masks/gloves and disinfectants and supplied transit centres for migrants with hygienic kits.
As soon as the pandemic broke out with the demand for face masks and disinfectants on the market being on the rise, women-entrepreneurs from North Macedonia and Albania included in a cross border cooperation project decided to reallocate part of the budget (12,500 euros) for solidarity activities that are still within the scope of the project’s priorities. "We produced 9,600 face masks, 1,250 visors and 1,100 units of bio-antibacterial soaps and they were all donated. The soaps are especially helpful for the skin of people whose nature of work necessitates wearing protective gloves eight hours a day", says Jasna Pajkovska, coordinator of the project, which includes women from the handicrafts, catering and manufacture sectors, and is implemented by the Centre for Change Management, in partnership with the Institute for Human Rights, Foundation EGALITE and the Centre for Comparative and International Studies. "The benefit is double – we are joining the fight against Covid-19, but at the same time we are continuing with economic and educational support for women-entrepreneurs. Through this action, the women in the project learnt how to adjust production to the demands of the market", she adds.
Another cross-border project (implemented by the Ministry of Local-Self Government, in cooperation with the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania) provided 2,500 re-usable face masks, 38,000 gloves for single use and hand sanitizers for the police departments in Ohrid, Struga and Debar, as well as 150 food packages for vulnerable groups in two municipalities in Albania.
Helping online education
The Youth Educational Forum (YEF), a youth-focused civil society organisation, produced a series of online classes entitled "Extraordinary Lectures". YEF initiated the programme by launching a call to students and young professionals interested in sharing their research and passion for science. To date, they have organised five extraordinary lectures, involving 170 young people, who registered to gain access and were actively engaged in the discussion. Open dialogue, interaction and constructive debate between lecturers and the participants were the main characteristics of each lecture.
The Centre for Change Management has analysed the resilience of the educational system in the times of social distancing and modern technologies, as well as its capacity to respond to similar challenges in the future.
Support for CSOs
The project for technical assistance to the civil societies in Western Balkans and Turkey (TACSO 3) repurposed 25,000 euros to help NGOs, through online trainings for emergency and crisis response, to contribute to dealing with the crisis.
A project providing technical assistance for improving the environment for civil society organisations in the country repurposed 150,000 euros as direct support to the NGOs in their addressing of the needs of the local communities, as well as 70,000 euros as assistance to the Government Council for Cooperation with the Civil Society in improving that cooperation in the time of the corona.
A project on the rule of law implemented by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights prepared information on rights and obligations in the COVID-19 circumstances and monitored the human rights protection during the state of emergency. The Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers with the Helsinki Committee published leaflets about the rights and obligations of persons kept in state quarantine. The CSO and Media Against Corruption - Coalition for Zero Tolerance project prepared a multi-media product on how public procurements should be done in the state of emergency. The Foundation Open Society, through a project of justice for marginalised groups and its online tool, provided numerous citizens with legal advices on social protection, labour rights, health insurance and the relief measures adopted by the government. The CSO Dialogue – Platform for Structural Participation in EU Integration is developing, inter alia, reports on the government measures and their effects during the pandemic in the key sector areas, as well as summaries of the measures that the EU is implementing in the country in the context of the pandemic. The Macedonian Occupational Safety and Health Association developed initiatives for implementation of the Law on Occupational Safety and Health in the current circumstances of social distancing. It also prepared fliers on how to protect better health workers and other categories that are exposed the most to Covid-19, such as workers in supermarkets, banks, transport, construction and in the food industry.
As part of their usual portfolios, the projects Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – CriThink and News and Digital Literacy: Where Fake News Fails continued to work on thwarting disinformation through social media and unprofessional reporting, this time linked to the corona crisis. At the same time, they were providing journalists with tips for reporting and helping readers to quickly verify information.
CriThink project keeps promoting myth-busting educational contents by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The issue of disinformation, including in the context of Covid-19, continued to be tackled by a project carried out by the Programme for Building Community Resilience against Violent Extremism and Radicalisation that lead to Terrorism.