The COVID crisis is driving home the importance of solidarity as the essential purpose of Development and Peace. Michael Swan

Crisis brings home lesson of solidarity

  • April 5, 2020

As a young aid worker, Christian Champigny spent weeks confined to his house in poor countries while war and revolution raged in the streets outside.

As the interim director of international programs at the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Champigny is again confined to his home, this time in Montreal, while COVID-19 forces a lockdown in peaceful, well-off countries around the world.

“I lived it in other countries, when I was working in different fields, when there was a confinement at home because of conflict or different things,” he told The Catholic Register. “To live it in my own country — it’s an intense experience because I never thought it would happen. But that makes us possibly closer in our understanding of each other and our understanding that we’re all interconnected.”

It’s too early to say whether Development and Peace will receive any of the $50 million in humanitarian assistance Ottawa has promised to help developing countries prepare for and respond to COVID-19, Champigny said. But the COVID crisis is driving home the importance of solidarity as the essential purpose of Development and Peace.

“The objective of our international solidarity movement is even more relevant now,” Champigny said.

“I believe that the whole idea of informing, educating and sharing — our financial resources, of course, but also sharing partnership, sharing solidarity — is even more relevant now.”

Development and Peace has surveyed its partners in 33 different countries to find out how they are coping with the COVID-19

There are no surprises in their answers, Champigny said. Administrative staff are being told to work from home. Non-essential meetings and services are suspended.

At the same time, the partners south of the equator have been concerned about Development and Peace staff in Montreal.

“We have received messages of solidarity from partners, because they see that it’s the north that’s hit,” Champigny said. “So they are sending messages of solidarity to us, hoping that we are well. The funny thing that comes out of all this is, I think, a sense of togetherness in a way.”

As part of the international Caritas network of 165 Catholic relief and development organizations in 200 countries, Development and Peace expects to play a role in aiding grassroots, Caritas-led efforts to prevent the spread of the virus in poor countries.

Development and Peace is already helping Caritas Bangladesh respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis in some of the largest refugee camps in the world along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

“Those camps are extremely dense. We really need to be careful,” Champigny said.

Development and Peace staffers won’t be physically in place in the camps while the threat of COVID-19 looms.

“We’re the ones potentially more contaminated. Do we want to contaminate a whole refugee camp that is so tightly and densely inhabited? This would be terrible,” Champigny said. 

Development and Peace wants first to encourage the things its partners are already doing to battle COVID-19, Champigny said.

One of Development and Peace’s partners in the Philippines, another member of the Caritas network, is asking parishes and dioceses to set up “kindness stations.”

The stations help Filipinos help each other by collecting and distributing whatever basic essentials people in a barangay (village or ward) can contribute to help people struck with COVID-19.

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