The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought devastating health, economic, and social effects across Latin America and the Caribbean. It has worsened pre-existing inequalities experienced by vulnerable groups like people with disabilities and young people. Our grantee partners have found that increasing access to technology helps address these issues, connecting people to jobs, education, and social support.
Keeping Honduran Students Connected to Learning
The sudden switch to remote learning in early 2020 caused new challenges for all students, but particularly for those whose families lack reliable Internet access at home. To avoid falling behind in school, many young people in Honduras have sought out public spaces like cafes for WiFi. These options, even if accessible, are largely unsafe while a pandemic is raging.
Since before the pandemic, our grantee Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE) has been dedicated to making it possible for promising youth from low-income families to continue their education by awarding scholarships. When quarantines began, OYE devised a plan to ensure its students could stay safe, but also remain connected to their virtual classes and peer support groups.
OYE launched the program Vamos a lo Virtual to cover mobile data plans for its students. According to one organizer, the program “has helped young people stay connected, active, hopeful, and, above all, at home in these very challenging times.”
“I don’t have a reliable WiFi network in my home, so I was forced to use mobile data,” said an OYE scholar. “Thanks to these minutes from OYE, I can continue my classes, meet with my friends, and turn in my exams. I really don’t think I could continue studying virtually without this support.”
Many struggling families have only seen their income-generating opportunities disappear and their financial stress increase since the pandemic began. OYE’s scholarship funding is proving more essential than ever for ensuring that promising young students continue having the opportunity to excel academically—and build more prosperous futures for them and their families.
Increasing Accessibility for Brazilian Women
In poorer states such as Piauí, Brazil, communication tools for people with disabilities were already sparse before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As of 2019, seventy percent of public and private companies in the region did not offer websites or broadcasted content adapted to people who are blind or visually impaired, making it difficult for this community to access vital services.
To combat these barriers, our grantee partner the Instituto Comradio do Brasil (COMRADIO) launched the award-winning program Mulheres de Visão (Women of Vision) last year. The initiative offers vocational training for blind and visually impaired women in Piauí that prepares them to generate a stable income by helping companies improve their products’ accessibility.
Then COVID-19 began and threatened to separate these women from the support networks, training, and tools they were using to live independently. In response, Mulheres de Visão shifted fully online in early 2020.
“Responding in a way that protected everyone’s health and continued the Mulheres de Visão program seemed impossible because our participating women are blind,” said Iraildon Mota, CEO of COMRADIO. Some of the program’s participants had never accessed the internet. Others had no computer or phone.
But, alongside COMRADIO organizers, participants helped one another adapt to the new technology and bolster their resilience. “The solidarity between them made an enormous difference,” Mota said. “For me it’s been very taxing to adjust to this new reality that we’re living in, but with time, I’ve adapted,” admits Francisca, a Mulheres de Visão participant. She is grateful that she can count on COMRADIO during the pandemic.
We are proud to support OYE, COMRADIO and all of our grantees that partner with vulnerable populations to solve both new and persistent development challenges. To date, we have invested $21.6 million in 151 organizations in 21 countries that are addressing challenges posed by COVID-19. Though quarantines have divided us physically for a time, equitable access to technology can help everyone stay online and on track to achieve their goals.
For another story about how IAF grantee partners are helping participants stay connected using technology during the crisis, check out the article “Community organisations collaborate to get young people online” published in Loop Jamaica.