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Thursday, June 11, 2020

­­Adapting in the Face of COVID-19: CorpsAfrica Finds Innovative Ways to Respond to New Demands In A Crisis


According to our survey of rated nonprofits, 83% of organizations have suffered financially due to the pandemic. Additionally, 50% of respondents are reporting an increased demand in programs. To overcome this disruption and to continue to serve communities in need, many nonprofits are adapting and innovating.

Today, we are honored to share a first-hand account of what innovation and adaptation looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis from Liz Fanning, Founder and Executive Director of CorpsAfrica*, a human services and development nonprofit headquartered in New York City, serving communities in four African nations.

By Liz Fanning and Elizabeth Skolnick

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, many aid organizations have had to switch gears, diverting much of their focus, funds, and volunteer force to combating the spread of the deadly virus. Indeed, doing good has taken on a new shape as it's become clear that the direst need in communities around the world is the prevention and containment of the disease.

Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco was an exceptional and life-changing experience for me and the other American volunteers in my cohort. Further, I believe that young Africans deserve the same opportunity I had to learn, grow, and make a positive change in their countries, by living and working within communities of the most need. Out of this belief came CorpsAfrica. Founded on the principles of listening to communities to learn about their specific needs, co-creating projects with input and buy-in from community members, and delivering lasting site-specific impacts, CorpsAfrica empowers Africans to help their fellow citizens. Today hundreds of volunteers have worked across four countries and completed over 500 projects, ranging from agriculture and key infrastructure establishment to education and healthcare initiatives to empowering women and girls.

In the time of COVID-19, our organization and the wonderful volunteers in Morocco, Senegal, Malawi, and Rwanda have pivoted quickly and effectively to deliver basic supplies like face masks, sanitizing products, coronavirus education, and established innovative methods to prevent its spread. In Senegal, volunteer Papa Sanou Faye has led an impressive effort in his home district of Gran Yoff, working with the municipality and the National Service on Health Education and Information and engaging community youth to distribute 530 masks, 12,500 educational flyers, and install 19 handwashing stations. The team also produced soap and bleach supplies for distribution to municipalities. In Malawi, volunteer Chiukepo led a community coronavirus awareness meeting in collaboration with the area’s Health Surveillance Assistant, while another volunteer-led a session for area teachers to disseminate up-to-date information on the virus and its transmission, dispel myths, and discuss impacts on the education system. Connecting the remote host villages with critical central health infrastructure has been one of the most important functions of the CorpsAfrica volunteers during the pandemic.

Additionally, past projects have focused on community resilience and issues like food security through small-scale agriculture, which have eased the economic impact of the pandemic. According to community members in the Rwandan host villages of Rutare and Mujebeshi, the planting of kitchen gardens (household gardens for family use) has ensured community members have enough to feed their families during this time. Excess vegetables are sold to bring in extra income. In one case, villagers ended up naming a successful potato crop “Ibirayi bya CorpsAfrica” (CorpAfrica’s Irish Potatoes).
As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, one of the key lessons is to remain responsive — both to new information as it becomes available and, importantly, to the needs of the host communities as they inevitably shift during the crisis. We will keep working to provide those fundamental safety tools that every person needs, like protective supplies and health and hygiene education, while also remaining dynamic and adaptable as the situation dictates.

We’re so proud of the hard work of the CorpsAfrica volunteers — some of whom have gone to great lengths to deliver goods to their host villages — as well as the wonderful community members they work with. With the generosity of spirit and ample elbow grease, they are models for how to react in a crisis, and also remind us of the strength and compassion of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Liz Fanning is the Founder and Executive Director of CorpsAfrica, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 1993-95. Elizabeth Skolnick is a freelance journalist, nonprofit advisor and environmental researcher based in NYC.

*As a young NGO, CorpsAfrica does not yet qualify to be rated by Charity Navigator. However, CorpsAfrica has a major impact in this space. We are working on a new rating system that will live alongside our traditional one. We aim to help make the nonprofit sector be more vibrant and inclusive with this new rating system and by sharing stories from impactful organizations.

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