By Nikki Gamer & Brittany Wichtendahl
Catholic Relief Services
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, March 18, 2020 – As COVID-19 continues to spread and upend the lives of millions across the world, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) warns of potential disruptions to global operations.
“We are at an unprecedented moment with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’ president and CEO. “At this point, it is unclear how the virus will ultimately affect all the locations where we work, including the United States. There will likely be significant disruption to our operations, and it certainly could strain health systems in many countries.”
Several CRS country programs have been stalled as self-isolation and social distancing have become standard to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In the Philippines, CRS staff members have been forced to stop programs that work in rural areas across the country and help the most vulnerable.
“It’s all moved very quickly,” said Matt McGarry, CRS’ country representative for the Philippines. "Manila is a ghost town today, and that’s increasingly the case in our other locations around the country. Fortunately, we were able to put contingency plans in place last week to keep operations running and ensure continuity, but virtually all of our field programs are now put on hold.”
In response to the rapidly evolving situation, CRS has established flexible working arrangements for offices all over the world, including at its Baltimore-based headquarters. In addition, CRS has established a “mission critical” policy for all staff travel.
“We strive every day, and even more in such a challenging time, to continue with our mission to serve and protect the most vulnerable while we take measures to ensure the safety, security and well-being of our partners and the entire CRS team,” Callahan said.
Meanwhile, CRS is continuing to respond to the pandemic where staff members can safely interact with communities in need. In Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Iraq and Senegal, CRS is distributing hygiene information and supplies, as well as helping with awareness-raising activities. In Kenya, CRS is supporting the development of communication materials and hand-washing booths. In Afghanistan, CRS is distributing soap and educational materials in schools and vulnerable communities.
“As always, a crisis like this falls most heavily on those families who are least able to cope with it,” McGarry said. “A lot of the communities we serve live life on a razor’s edge – just one misfortune away from destitution.”