Families navigate COVID-19 crisis

With work in the informal economy at a near standstill, Unbound sponsorship may be their only consistent source of support.

A family in Ecuador shows support for social distancing while sharing an encouraging message for their sponsors. Standing next to her mother, Melida, and with her arm around the family llama, 2-year-old Consuelo holds a sign saying, “I stay at home.” Her sister, 7-year-old Jhenifer, shares the message, “Sponsors, take care of yourselves. We’ll see each other soon.”

Benefits ‘more important than ever’

Support from sponsors and donors gives families served by Unbound around the world a lifeline in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing, curfews, lockdowns and other restrictions mean families making their living in the informal economy now have little or no income. That’s especially destabilizing for day laborers, street vendors, domestic workers and others when safety nets such as unemployment benefits are unavailable.

When your livelihood is in the informal sectors and the kind of work our families do, if they social distance they starve. That is why the Unbound support right now is more important than ever for them.

– Pritha Hariharan, international program director for Unbound’s Africa-Asia region

Families continue to receive sponsorship benefits through Unbound’s method of sending funds electronically to individual bank accounts. In Medellin, Colombia, for example, families receive a text message to their cell phones when sponsorship money is in their accounts. The availability of cheap cell phones and texting make that possible.

“Unbound continues to accompany them, the benefits are distributed to them,” said Jennifer Gutierrez, who works with families in the New Jerusalem community on the outskirts of Medellin. Many of the families settled there after fleeing violence or because they cannot afford to live in the city.

“They get notified when the funds transfer has been made, and they can withdraw their funds and use them to buy food provisions,” Gutierrez said.

The vast majority of families participating in Unbound programs around the world receive funds through individual accounts. A number of elders also get their benefits this way, though some still receive physical distributions of food and other goods. In cases when beneficiaries lack access to banking systems, Unbound’s network of local staff teams and parent leaders are working to find safe, appropriate ways to deliver benefits during the pandemic.

Staying connected from a distance

In support of social distancing guidelines, Unbound offices at the Kansas City headquarters and around the world are closed. Staff members with internet access and the ability to do their jobs remotely are working from home.

Schools around the world remain closed, and students must rely on online instruction or homeschooling to keep up their studies. Studying is difficult or impossible in communities like New Jerusalem, however, when students lack access to computers or the internet at home.

Unbound scholarship recipients, about half of whom also have sponsorship support, continue to receive funds transferred to individual accounts. Students have been encouraged to use the funds for food and other basic necessities, so they’re ready and able to resume their studies when that’s possible.

With Unbound parent group meetings and home visits canceled, field staff keep in touch with families primarily through text messages. Mothers groups and parent leaders have been doing their part to encourage social distancing, despite the economic risks.

For parents who must go out in order to feed their families, customers are scarce.

“They are not having access to their regular markets,” Melissa Velazquez, Unbound’s international program director for the Latin America region, said. “It really means a loss of work for our families.”

Most of the families in New Jerusalem, for example, work on a “day-by-day basis” in construction, selling candy in the streets or as housemaids in the city, Gutierrez said.

“Many are violating the quarantine, not because they don’t want to [observe it] but because they have no food and need to go out to find some options,” she said.

Any money left over from previous work is quickly running out, and sponsorship benefits may be their only reliable source of income.

Inspired by families’ resilience

In this time of crisis, the world can learn valuable lessons from families overcoming poverty, Unbound President/CEO Scott Wasserman said.

“Unfortunately, this is not new to them,” he said. “They're used to having to work their way through crisis, through tragedy, through adversity. This is their normal.

“Now it’s our turn, we can learn from them. We can be inspired by them, and we can work our way through this together. And the only way we’re going to get through this is together.”

Sponsor Gwen Fleace of Minnesota was among those who sent messages expressing support for the Unbound community.

“I pray for you as staff, for our present child, Anshua in India, our former children who have now aged out and are living their lives, I hope in a better way because of our help to them as children and students,” Fleace wrote.

From left: Sponsored youth Ana Carolina, her father, Juan, and mother, Guadalupe, send an encouraging message from their home in Mexico. Their signs say, “Stay in good spirits, sponsor. Have faith. God is with you.”

She added that sponsorship seeks to change the world for the better, one child at a time. “Together we are working toward that goal. God bless you at this difficult time.”

Despite their own challenges, families served by Unbound are thinking about sponsors and their safety. Ana Carolina of Mexico shared this message: “Stay in good spirits, sponsor. Have faith. God is with us.”

Learn about five dynamics of Unbound programs that help the organization respond in the COVID-19 crisis.

The images below show families in Unbound around the world supporting social distancing measures and sending messages of encouragement for sponsors.

How you can help in the pandemic

Your gift to the Disaster Response fund helps families most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Cash transfers are made to the individual bank accounts where families receive their Unbound benefits. This gives families the most flexibility to address urgent needs while doing their part to stay healthy and keep their communities safe.