Most of the U.S. is familiar now with the common advice for preventing COVID-19: wash your hands often, and stay home as much as possible.
But what if you don’t have access to running water, food, or electricity?
This is the story for many in the Navajo Nation. On May 10, the Navajo Nation confirmed more cases of COVID-19 per capita than any state in the US. With an area roughly the size of West Virginia, the reservation includes hundreds of thousands of people, over a third of whom lack access to clean running water, among other necessities. For the Navajo, it’s hard to stay home and stay safe. We want to help change that.
That’s why World Renew has focused our national COVID-19 response on working with the Navajo Nation to get life-sustaining supplies to those who need them most. Because we believe in coming together during times of crisis, we’re also working with RCA Global Mission in this response. Together, we’ve partnered with Rehoboth Christian School, located on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, to carry out this work.
Carol Bremer-Bennett, World Renew’s US Executive Director, says, “The Navajo are family-oriented and it is heartbreaking to see the devastation that COVID-19 is causing, particularly for the elderly. Yet, the Navajo are also resilient people of faith and hope. Their strength is beautiful and the Navajo churches and Rehoboth Christian School are working to help people see the great love of God in the midst of suffering.”
World Renew Disaster Response volunteers working with Rehoboth Christian School to feed students and their families.
Even as schools were shut down due to the virus, Rehoboth staff began working even harder to feed students and their families. Many qualify for a free school lunch program, which the school is working to continue offering outside of the school walls. And since the beginning of the outbreak, needs have continued to grow.
Gallup, the nearest town with affordable supplies, was recently shut down. As a result, many people who normally travel to the town for groceries now rely on the food and water distribution offered by Rehoboth. With the help of our donors, they’ve recently doubled the number of families served, from 50 to 100.
World Renew values partnerships with local organizations like Rehoboth, because they are the most in touch with the community’s needs.
“They know the area, they know the issues better than we do,” says Bob Laarman, Director of World Renew Disaster Response Services. This approach is especially useful with the COVID-19 crisis, as volunteers are no longer being sent to affected areas. Instead, the work happens directly through people in the community. For example, when it comes to helping the most remote families, Rehoboth has hired members of the Navajo Nation to drive supplies out to those in need.
One of the other partners who’s made this work possible is RCA Global Mission. Scott Engelsman, Supervisor of Marketing, Disaster Response, and RCA Mission in Europe and the Middle East, speaks to their collaboration:
“Through the generosity of donors, we have been able to provide funding to partners around the world to help feed those on the margins who are even more impacted by economic shutdowns. The partnership with World Renew has allowed us to do that for the Navajo as well.”
This crisis is different from any other disaster that World Renew has responded to in the past. Comparing the COVID-19 response to other DRS work, Bob Laarman quoted a phrase commonly used in the field:
“The one thing all disasters have in common is that they’re all different.”
Going in with that mindset has been helpful, he says. The pandemic may have changed some of the typical response methods, but by working through local people and organizations, World Renew remains committed to serving the most vulnerable people during this crisis.