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Partner Spotlight: Building Community Resilience and Wellbeing in the COVID-19 Era

Isibindi NC Careworkers
Careworkers from the Isibindi Programme in Lerato, Kimberley in the Northern Cape. Photo Credit: Synergos
August 18, 2020

This article is part of a “Partner Spotlight” series where we will be sharing the innovative ways SCSC partners are responding and adapting in light of COVID-19. 

Synergos is a global organization that works to address the most complex causes of poverty by deepening trust, fostering collective action, and creating regenerative solutions. They collaborate with groups in areas such as agriculture, health, youth development, employment, and education to achieve lasting change. 

The Samuel Family Foundation has long been engaged in a co-creative partnership with Synergos Institute Canada to establish the Social Connectedness (SC) Programme in Southern Africa to address social isolation in the context of poverty. Social isolation can exist as both a contributing factor to and a consequence of poverty; grounded in the belief that socially connected children are more likely to escape poverty, the SC Programme focuses on improving outcomes for children by influencing the policies, programs, and practices of the organizations that serve them. 

Synergos and the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness (SCSC) have previously collaborated on research through the Social Connectedness Fellowship to explore how community-based programs enable social and economic mobility for youth, as well as to examine how psychosocial wellbeing can be fostered among socioeconomically disenfranchised young people. Building on this body of joint research, 2020 Social Connectedness Fellow Lebogang Mahlalela is working with Synergos Institute South Africa this summer to identify how social connectedness builds better bridging leaders. 

When COVID-19 swept across the globe, many of the SC Programme activities were placed on hold due to strict lockdown and physical distancing public health restrictions. In response, the SC Programme and its local partners in Southern Africa pivoted their efforts and focus to adapt their programming to address the immediate and emerging needs of communities in light of COVID-19. As many of the SC Programme partners are organizations of youth workers, caregivers and community health workers, the stakeholders of these organizations have been in many contexts, critical workers on the front lines of this pandemic, delivering both health and social interventions in response to the needs of some of Southern Africa’s most vulnerable populations. 

Many of the SC Programme partners have been innovative and nimble in finding ways to continue to serve the communities in which they work, amidst challenging physical constraints due to strict lockdown measures and physical distancing requirements. For example, SOS Children’s Villages, which finds loving homes for orphaned and abandoned children, has designed virtual support resources for foster mothers and aunts, including online counselling services that will likely benefit the community well beyond the COVID-19 context. The Regional and Africa Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI and APSSI) shifted their regular programming in Ugandan refugee communities to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) for community workers, distribute food, and deploy more social workers to disseminate information on hygiene and physical distancing within camps for COVID-19 prevention. There is continued advocacy for additional extension of mental health supports for those frontline community care workers, who are overwhelmed at this time. 

The Networking HIV/AIDS Community in Southern Africa (NACOSA) has expanded their community health work and engagement services to the broader community, and have strengthened the focus of their continued activities on providing psychosocial support to families and children. NACOSA is distributing hygiene packs and PPE to care workers to protect both workers and clients in carrying out work in the community. 

All of the SC Programme partners reported that the trust they had built within their respective communities, through the work of the SC Programme to build and strengthen social connectedness within their organizational structures, and the community structures they support, has been critical in their ability to respond to the needs of communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The partners are well positioned to identify and help respond to the local needs and challenges that are evolving in the ever changing context of the pandemic, and have established trust and relationships within communities, especially those that have now found themselves to be increasingly vulnerable in the face of the pandemic.

In an effort to continue to nurture and provide a community of support amongst the SC Programme partners, a virtual dialogue session, “Social Connectedness in the time of Physical Distancing” was convened in April 2020. The virtual dialogue meeting brought together the Samuel Family Foundation, SCSC, Synergos and SC Programme partners from across Southern Africa to share and examine the needs of the partners and stakeholders in the context of COVID-19, as they worked to continue to serve their respective communities. The webinar, which built on creating Circles of Hope amongst the care workforce, was hugely successful in providing much-needed opportunity for connection and peer support among SC Programme partners and sharing of ideas and resources.

You can learn more about Synergos on their website and follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter.