The COVID-19 Crisis: Civil Society Responses in Mexico and Along the Border

Dear Friends,

On June 18, 2020, I participated in a panel organized by the Berkley Center of Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University to discuss civil society responses to COVID-19 in Mexico and along the Border. Please find here the video and an abridged text detailing the major points of my participation.

Faith-based organizations have a central place in this outbreak because we have communities backing us. CADENA the humanitarian arm of many Jewish communities around the world has the capacity to mobilize the resources of each local community.

Through our network, we’ve been able to involve two countries and create cross-border strategies. With the immigrant crisis at the border of Venezuela and Colombia, we have played the part of mediators between the government, the immigration ministry, and the population.

In Mexico, poverty is a chronic problem–half the country now has nothing to eat–but when you add COVID in the mix, everything becomes more dramatic.  With COVID-19 we’ve gone back to basics: providing food, clean water, shelter,, and psychosocial support. We are also fighting against COVID in the hospitals, providing protective equipment to the doctors and staff, the true heroes in this pandemic.

We forged an alliance between Alma, another NGO from the Jewish community who works with cancer, and has extensive knowledge of the network of hospitals in Mexico, something we lack. Together, we have given more than 14,000 items of equipment for hospitals in Mexico. Doctors do not have the equipment they need to treat patients. We are dealing with that. We are providing food to the people waiting for their families and relatives.

Right at the beginning of the COVID crisis, we started mapping the most vulnerable communities. We focused immediately on old people living by themselves.  So we started a beautiful program pairing a volunteer from CADENA to an older person who does not have anyone to take care of him or her. The volunteer talks to him or her every day to make sure that he or she is okay, and also to prevent depression, sickness, and death. This wonderful program has been so successful that the government wants to launch it at a national level.

COVID-19 is a multi-hazard issue in Mexico, involving systemic risks.  The most vulnerable people are now facing extreme poverty, no work, and natural risks like earthquakes. This is the case now, for the Yucatán peninsula, recovering from floodings caused by tropical storms and hurricanes. As first responders, we are the first to go to the field in these cases.

To go to the field and help people is truly a heroic action right now.  But just as doctors do their jobs in the hospitals, humanitarians need to go to the field in dangerous situations.

We are also helping families all over Mexico with a call center project done through Whatsapp. Right now we are bringing psychosocial support to prevent violence,  depression and keep the population informed.  Medical orientation is very important because people in Mexico don’t know when to go to the hospital, so people die in their houses because they don’t know when to make the decision to go. With this tool, we are saving lives every single minute.

We are at war with COVID and this war has a lot of different flanks. We are present in each flank and doing our best to reduce suffering. To be resilient, we have to be adaptable.

This crisis will be with us for a long time. So we must commit to leading and changing the realities around us. That’s my message.

About the Author
Benjamin is the Secretary-General of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City. He's the winner of the 2020 "Changing the World" Award, awarded by President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.