A few years ago, CWS and our partner Pusbinlat helped people in five Central Sulawesi villages to form Disaster Resilient Village teams. Their impetus was to get out ahead of the next inevitable natural disaster.
One of the villages is Pondingao. And its people came together to form a volunteer team to prepare for, and respond to, its next disaster…if and when it comes. The volunteers’ key focus was to help people know when and how to evacuate. Of course, it is not so simple as “just evacuate”. So, a rapid needs assessment was done to decide specific preparedness and response activities. Key among these was having some people, like the volunteers themselves, with First Aid knowledge and skills. Mapping and evacuation site preparation were other areas of focus.
Pondingao’s volunteers did a great job of organizing their community for customary natural disasters. Never did they imagine or prepare for a public health disaster like the coronavirus. Still, their basic readiness served them very well. For example, when volunteers got provincial government advice to form a COVID-19 Task Force, they were ahead of the game. Already they had basic plans to respond, locally, to risks and threats.
Yonatha Lemba Langi led the COVID-19 Task Force to act immediately. They distributed masks, disinfected houses as needed, and added public sinks and soap. Importantly, the team positively and helpfully monitored restrictions on movement and gatherings. Task Force members also collected information to help the Government prioritize the most vulnerable families for emergency food assistance.
“The hardest part is getting people to follow new rules, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing,” said Yonatha recently. “We still keep reminding [people] to wear masks and wash their hands. We normally don’t wash our hands so often, so this takes some getting used to!” he added. “As Task Force members we try to ensure people are adapting to new ways so we can be safe.”
When some early restrictions were recently relaxed to allow worship services, for example, Yonatha and his team joined both Friday prayers and Sunday services. They checked to make sure there were sinks and soap for hand-washing at all places of worship in Pondingao, and for traditional ceremonies or other events where larger groups gathered.
“This so-called ‘new normal’ is part of building resilience in Pondingao,” says Yonatha. To address COVID-19 “We are using information and skills learned about and for natural disasters with support form Punsbinlat and CWS staff. Still, I hope this pandemic ends soon,” he added. No doubt, what the people of Pondingao are learning now will serve them well in the face of other kinds of disasters.