Like the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense suffering and confusion in the lives of many people in Asia. A new study by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) found that lockdowns and the economic recession caused by COVID-19 may exacerbate an already dire worldwide hunger crisis, almost doubling the number of people who could go hungry, pushing a total of 265 million people to the brink of starvation by the end of the year.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not merely a global health crisis but also a global humanitarian catastrophe, warned David Beasley, the WFP Executive Director. The various impacts of global warming and climate change resulting in cyclones, flood, locust attacks, earthquakes, and landslides in the midst of this pandemic have further aggravated the suffering in many countries in Asia.
Confinement, lockdowns, and quarantines have increased violence against women and children. Measures to curb the disease have worsened existing inequalities, forcing girls out of school and placing them at heightened risk of violence in their homes. Since women and girls undertake more than three-quarters of unpaid care in rural communities in Asia and low-income countries, they are likely to be at greater risk of infection.
However, the silver lining in the midst of all this is that there are numerous stories of hope which Asian women are weaving through their dialogue of life.
“True, we were locked in our homes during lock down but COVID-19 does not have the power to lock our hearts filled with compassion and love,” states Daisy Roy (WDP Bangladesh National Correspondent). Daisy Roy, Lipika Florence Sammadar and many other women leaders involved in the WDP in Bangladesh are actively communicating via social platforms and strategizing on how workers in garment factories can be helped during this COVID-19 Emergency Lockdown.
Women in Bangladesh are struggling to come to terms with the loss of livelihood as factory workers. They make clothes for European markets, which are laying them off due to mass cancellations of orders. The Bangladesh’s export-oriented garment industry employs more than four million workers and 85 percent of them are women. “Families of garment workers are starving. We are working in partnership with the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh and other interfaith groups to help women factory workers. We are distributing rice, grocery items, food hampers along with soap, sanitizers and personal protective equipment. We are also networking with organizations, federations, and activists who work for the human rights of garment workers,” states Roy.
Still reeling under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, India and Pakistan face a food security situation. “The locust attack in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse for us in Pakistan. People are dying of hunger and starvation. We are witnessing so much suffering in our own communities. We, women leaders in our churches, started praying and networking to collect whatever food and resources we could to share it with others. We are supporting the families of daily wage laborers, widows, pregnant women etc. We even networked with the Pakistan Army to provide us ration hampers to be distributed. Now we are working to collect health and hygiene materials like vitamins, medicines, sanitary pads and hand sanitizers to be distributed,” says Alyssa Saleem from Pakistan. Saleem is introducing the WDP movement in her Church women’s organization and Diocese. Also from Pakistan, Asyia John is sewing masks for her church women’s fellowship to distribute to the community. “Even if we are poor and vulnerable, we can pray, help and care for one another,” she says.
In India, the lockdown hit the migrant workers very hard. Lakhs of migrant workers are reeling in hunger, poverty and find it impossible to reach their homes. Migrants, including women and even children, are walking more than 1000 kms following the railway track or highway trying to get home. Many of them are being hit by lorries or trains in the night. Women are giving birth on the roads, and many are dying of heat stroke and hunger. However, even in the midst of all this suffering, I see rays of hope. These rays of hope are stories of resilience and acts of giving, sharing and kindness which has increased drastically during this COVID-19 crisis. It is not just the privileged and rich who are sharing but even the vulnerable.
In different parts of India, women involved in WDP are engaged in humanitarian work by feeding the hungry or supporting those affected by cyclone Amphan, which hit the West Bengal state in India and Bangladesh in May 2020. Women are raising funds to plant trees in the mangrove to restore nature and the livelihood of people in Sundarbans, West Bengal, an area hit by the Cyclone.
The mental health of Indian women has become adversely affected by spikes in domestic violence and the stress and anxiety of watching loved ones suffer or die. Women often suffer in a culture of silence. In order to break the silence and care for each other, we have started a WhatsApp group called ‘Food Speaks and Heals’. Cooking can be therapeutic; it can be a cathartic process. This group helps us to connect to one another and share our recipes to boost our immunity. We share our day to day problems, break the silence, care for one another, find solutions and pray together.
In Thailand, Rev. Dr. Sirirat Pusurinkham (Former WDPIC Executive Committee member), leads the Prachakittisuk Church, near Chaing Rai, in a community project called ‘Sharing Box’ or ‘Food ATM’. “This project is helping us support people and families, most of whom are undocumented migrants, refugees and economically poor. Jesus has taught us to share our food,” reflects Sirirat. She is also caring for children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS and involving the women of her church and community in making masks to distribute during the pandemic.
There is so much happiness in giving and sharing in the midst of crisis. Giving and sharing is an act of hope as it heals the wounded and suffering world. Christ has bestowed us the power of resilience, so even if we are vulnerable, we can “Rise, Take Our Mat and Walk” and journey together in healing the world.
- Rev. Moumita Biswas, Asia Regional Representative of WDPIC Executive Committee