Keeping hope alive this COVID Christmas

Dec 17, 2020
By Michael Messenger, President and CEO, World Vision Canada 
This year has been disruptive for all of us. And as Canadians mark their first COVID Christmas, they’ve shared with us that much of their time with family and friends will remain on hold. A recent IPSOS survey revealed that most of us will avoid in-person holiday events or gatherings this year. For many, this will be the loneliest, most difficult Christmas in memory.  In my own family, my mother has decided not to join us for Christmas, and it’s unlikely my wife’s parents will come either. Our kids will be home from university, but our usual family time will be very different.
But hope has not been cancelled. The survey revealed that fully 80% of us believe that next year will be better. Our holiday spirit hasn’t been broken either. About 90% of us believe we still need to do more for those less fortunate than ourselves. Though we all know that the pandemic has affected Canadian family finances and the ability to help directly.  

The "haves" and the "have nots"

The long-awaited vaccine is on the horizon – even more reason to be hopeful. But that alone won’t inoculate us from a growing wedge between the pandemic’s “haves” and “have nots”. COVID-19 exploits inequalities and preys on vulnerabilities. This is the challenging truth, whether it’s homeless people living on the streets of our largest Canadian cities, or the stateless Rohingya people “temporarily” living in the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh. 
As Canadians, we are counting on our resiliency to get us through this tumultuous time. But for countries hit hard by decades of conflict and disaster and already ill-equipped to cope with the crisis, the effects of inequality will be further deepened. Many aren’t even able to count the casualties. A recent study by the Imperial College London suggests that in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, only two to five per cent of coronavirus deaths have been officially reported and that up to 38% of the population has been infected. This continues to be our fear for the most vulnerable people living on the world’s margins. 
The pandemic has also triggered a series of devastating secondary aftershocks. Lost livelihoods have resulted in a growing child protection crisis. Child abuse, child marriage, child labour and child hunger threaten girls and boys in the world’s poorest countries in ever greater numbers. And the effects of school disruptions and lost education could last for generations.  

two girls from Central African Republic smile outside their home, and hold hands.
When rebels attacked and burned their village in CAR, Innes and Angela escaped with their mothers in the night, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Photo: Chelsea Maclachlan

I will never forget my conversations with children in the Central African Republic. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they were longing to get back to their schools, closed because of conflict and violence. The pandemic will prolong their education gap—and that gap is now being felt in so many other vulnerable communities because of the impacts of the coronavirus.

Hope for the most vulnerable

Despite this negative news, we see hope for the world’s most vulnerable children, too. When this crisis began, we did what we do best. We responded. In fact, World Vision launched the largest crisis response in our 70-year history. We ran and we ran hard, rapidly mobilizing our teams and hundreds of thousands of community healthcare workers while nimbly adapting how we work. 

Throughout the crisis, we’ve used innovative ways to be effective. To support Venezuelan migrants on the move, we’ve been able to distribute aid through their mobile phones to minimize physical contact. For South Sudanese refugee children no longer able to go to school, we provided radios so they could tune into their teachers. And in Democratic Republic of Congo we applied valuable lessons from the Ebola response, engaging trusted pastors to spread the word about social distancing and to address misinformation. 

And Canadian generosity is having an impact, reaching farther than ever before against incredible odds. To date, World Vision has reached 55.9 million people – including 25 million children – with critical support like healthcare, COVID education, economic support and child protection. 

Putting our hope into action is a Canadian value. We must continue to help those who need it most. It’s no exaggeration that we will face global consequences if the gulf between the world’s richest and poorest continues to widen. We need to recognize that we are on a path of greater global instability that will affect us all. 

To be ‘in this together’, let’s put that notion truly into practice, delete ‘us and them’ from our vocabulary, and eradicate this virus fairly, for everyone. Let’s build a next normal that is better for all, and communities that are stronger than ever. Together, we can keep hope alive. 
Michael Messenger is the President and CEO of World Vision Canada. With more than a decade of experience in non-profit leadership, he is a passionate advocate for children around the world who face poverty and injustice. His heart for the most fragile regions of the world has taken him to South Sudan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan to serve the most vulnerable. Michael holds a JD from the University of Toronto, and a BA in Economics from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  

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