Compassion UK: Submission to the International Development Committee on the Secondary Impacts of COVID-19
The following report will introduce the Committee to the work of Compassion UK, including how this has been adapted during the pandemic. It will then focus on Togo to consider the specifics of this Call for Evidence. Compassion UK works in 25 developing countries and, in fact, any one of these countries would have been appropriate for such an exploration. While Togo has not been the worst affected country to date, the kinds of challenges this country has faced are typical across the globe. Moreover, Togo is the first country where Compassion UK has partnered with UK Aid to provide vital support to vulnerable communities.
Established in 1952, Compassion UK is an international children’s charity, working to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. We provide support to local church partners in 25 developing countries using our tried and tested holistic child development model. As of October 2020, UK-based sponsors are supporting 107,509 vulnerable children worldwide, as part of over 2.2 million sponsored by the wider international Compassion family.
In addition to supporting children through sponsorship, Compassion UK also funds locally identified, bespoke interventions within deprived communities. These are developed in conjunction with community members and local experts, and typically relate to health, hygiene, and education. As of January 2020, we have also, for the first time, received DfID (FCDO) funding for Child Survival Interventions in Togo. This programme exists to reduce child mortality rates, providing mums and babies with access to critical medical care and practical support during pregnancy and the child’s first year of life.
Compassion’s long-standing delivery model is to work with frontline church partners based within the communities we seek to serve - this is currently 7,947 partners worldwide. However, during the pandemic, churches all over the globe have been closed in line with national lockdown measures - thus preventing children from attending church-based projects, where they ordinarily receive meals, teaching, access to health care, and the opportunity to hear the gospel.
This is not to say that the church has been inactive. Rather, Compassion staff and volunteers in the field have re-directed their energies to providing practical assistance (detail to follow) within their communities. Moreover, Compassion has redirected sponsorship funds to support our beneficiaries and their families in the critical areas of nutrition, hygiene, and medical support. Supported by donations from Compassion’s COVID-19 appeal – towards which the UK has contributed £3.67 million between April and September this year – the Compassion International family has provided:
Progress on our programme of interventions has varied depending on the type of intervention pursued and local context. For example, whilst water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) interventions have continued – and even expanded – to support countries in their fight against the spread of coronavirus, infrastructure interventions across the globe, such as classroom construction, have been suspended to meet national guidelines.
This small, sub-Saharan economy depends heavily on agriculture. Cocoa, coffee, and cotton generate about 40% of export earnings with cotton being the most important cash crop. Many Togolese are also subsistence farmers and exist on a day-to-day basis.
In an effort to expand and stabilise the economy, Togo has been working to make reforms with the help of the World Bank and the IMF. Together they have been encouraging foreign investment and assessing how best to make use of their phosphate reserves. However, poverty remains prevalent with 69% of households in rural areas living below the poverty line.
The majority of children in Togo are desperately poor. Without quality healthcare, under-5 mortality rates are 67 per 1,000 live births. Even those children who manage to survive those early years face countless obstacles including disease, malnutrition and limited access to medical care and education.
As of January, UK Aid has been funding 23 Child Survival interventions in rural communities in Togo Though the interventions are still in their infancy, 246 healthy babies have already been born to the women supported by them. Despite COVID, activities have broadly progressed as planned, with nutritional food being distributed to those in need, and workshops on child development, nutritional food preparation and income-generating skills being delivered to new and expectant mothers, providing them with the skills they need to provide for their children.
However, successes aside, the pandemic is taking its toll on vulnerable women. Whilst the coronavirus has, to date, not reached the rural communities where the interventions are taking place, restrictions implemented in April by the Togolese Government have had a significant impact on the lives of mothers.
Livelihoods and food security
Many mothers and families own small holdings, which allow them to grow food for their own consumption with a little left over to sell. However, the government’s closure of markets and schools has taken away that financial opportunity. Families have therefore found themselves with a more limited nutritional intake, as they are only able to eat what they can grow, and an inability to afford the necessities that their very modest market income would otherwise allow.
In agreement with the FCDO, resources from Compassion UK’s grant (c.3%) have been reallocated to provide additional nutritional food stuffs to vulnerable families over the next nine months. In addition, 25 mothers have undertaken training in the making of hygiene masks, enabling all women enrolled in one of the 23 interventions to receive two of their own face masks. This has not only provided them with protective equipment and understanding, but has also empowered 25 of those mothers with an additional income-generating skill to stabilise and diversify their future income.
Neo- and postnatal healthcare
An unwanted side-effect of government restrictions around travel and social spaces is the fear now experienced by new and expectant mothers concerning medical clinics and hospitals. Many women are anxious that, by attending antenatal check-ups, there is more opportunity for them to catch coronavirus. However, in missing medical appointments and check-ups, the mothers risk the lives and health of their unborn children.
In response to this, our local church partners are seeking to reassure expectant and new mothers, attending check-ups with them to calm their fears, and therefore ensuring that babies are given the best opportunity to thrive when they enter the world. It is partly thanks to this additional personal effort that, of the 246 births given by mothers enrolled in the interventions since the beginning of the year, 238 were at full-term and 240 took place in a medical facility.
Holistic child development
Outside of the Child Survival Interventions, government restrictions mean that Compassion UK’s local church partners in Togo are unable to bring together the children they support through Compassion’s sponsorship-funded holistic child development model. Before the pandemic each church partner in Togo ministered to over 150 children every Saturday, providing a meal, classes in vocational skills, financial support to attend school, health check-ups, and an opportunity to hear the gospel. Unable to attend, the children are missing out on vital support as they grow. This has therefore exacerbated the impact of coronavirus on the education and wellbeing of vulnerable children, who are already unable to attend school.
Treatment of women and children: two case studies
Whilst visiting her family from neighbouring Burkino Faso, Tanti received devastating news that she had tested positive for COVID-19. The response from the local community was immediate and severe. During the night, a terrified Tanti was hauled off by police and by the next morning, the whole village was aware of her diagnosis. Tanti’s 8-year old niece, Etonam, felt the consequences of this personally:
"My sister and I went to buy food in the shop and they refused to serve us and sent us away. They told us that my aunt Tanti contaminated us with COVID-19, and we should never approach them. We returned home crying."
After this, the whole family was asked to quarantine under police guard. Unable to source essentials, and with no one willing to bring food, the family was isolated and desperate for help. Fortunately, Compassion's local church partner was informed about the family's situation. They provided food and essentials to the house, ensuring they could quarantine safely.
Above: Etonam plays outside
Before the Pandemic, 15-year old Rene spent his time between school and the local child development centre, where he is enrolled as a Compassion beneficiary. However, since mid-March, he has been forced to stay home. During this time, Rene has discovered that his mother is the regular victim of physical and psychological abuse by his father. She cries after the episodes of violence, as Rene and his two siblings are forced to look on.
During lockdown, Rene broke his father’s radio and, fearing violent consequences for his mother, he ran away from home. Days later, his mother informed the local Compassion Project Coordinator, who contacted the local police station to initiate a search. It was not until 4 weeks later than Rene was found – living as a street child and working in the market to survive.
Rene was rescued and, after a receiving medical care, was returned to his parents. Compassion’s Child Protection Specialist and Psychologist is monitoring the case, and the family is receiving support, including therapy. The case is ongoing.
Evi Gosden, Public Affairs Manager at Compassion UK
07719 015 276
 The Committee may be interested to watch Compassion UK’s country-specific “On the Ground” coronavirus insight videos, created for our sponsors and supporters. On our YouTube Channel, the Committee will find deep dives into the ongoing situations in: Brazil, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Rwanda, Togo, Uganda, and South East Asia.
 World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/togo/overview
 World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT?locations=TG