People all over Ireland are feeling fear. As Coronavirus spreads, people are fearful for what the future holds. For their health and that of their loved ones. For their friends and neighbours. For their jobs.
At Trócaire, we know what fear looks like. We see it every day in the communities where we work. People fearful of a lack of food. Of bombs falling. Of soldiers and gunmen approaching.
We also know what conquers fear. Solidarity. Standing together. Showing vulnerable members of our communities compassion.
Amid all the terrible news of recent days, it has been heartening to see such a strong sense of solidarity in Ireland. The innate goodness of our people has never shone brighter.
On behalf of Trócaire, I urge our supporters and volunteers to be strong. Take care of each other. Follow the advice of our amazing healthcare workers. Ignore fake news and make sure to give yourself space to switch off altogether.
Most of all, keep a distance from each other.
These are the messages we are bringing to communities we work with around the world, too.
The entire world is fighting the same battle. The Coronavirus knows no borders. Never before has the world been so united.
We are fearful for what the future holds in Ireland, but at least we know that some of the best healthcare professionals in the world are working night and day to protect us.
Well-resourced countries are being stretched to the limit by this virus. What will happen when it spreads to some of the poorest countries on Earth?
COVID-19 has already been reported in countries such as Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo. These are countries with no systems to warn people, no testing facilities and no functioning health service to respond.
People in these countries are incredibly vulnerable.
If you are living through a drought in Malawi or Kenya, you may only be eating once a day. You may have HIV or be malnourished. Your immune system is going to be compromised.
The two key defences against COVID-19 are hand washing and social distancing. But if you don’t have clean water what do you wash your hands with? If you live in a refugee camp or a small shack, how do you keep a distance?
There are currently Coronavirus cases in 12 of the countries where Trócaire support people. Trying to contain the spread of the virus in these countries is going to be a mammoth task for our teams in the weeks and months ahead.
Our most affected region so far is the Middle East. Elsewhere, in Central America, Guatemala and Honduras are in lockdown. Of the countries where we work in Africa, cases have been reported in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, DR Congo and Sudan.
The good news is that we have experience dealing with disease outbreaks.
During the ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014-15, our teams in Sierra Leone helped save thousands of lives. Today, we continue to counter the spread of ebola in DR Congo, where over 2,200 people have died from the disease the last 18 months.
And DR Congo offers hope – just recently, the last patient infected with ebola was released from hospital. These fights can – and will – be won.
Our determination to do what we can to stop the spread of the virus goes beyond our programmes. It has changed how we work.
We have cancelled all face-to-face activities during our Lenten Appeal. We have also cancelled all travel. Around the world, our teams are doing what they can to ensure they do not spread the virus, while also fighting to protect the most vulnerable members of our global family.
While face-to-face activities have been cancelled, our Lenten Appeal continues. You can support us online. If you have a Trócaire box, keep it until such a time as you can return it, either through your local school, parish or Trócaire centre.
As we prepare to battle this virus in some of the poorest countries in the world, your support is needed now more than ever.
You can donate online or by phoning:
1850 408 408 (Republic of Ireland)
0800 912 1200 (Northern Ireland).