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MN Relief Group Scrambles to Help Refugees Abroad in Pandemic

Much like homeless shelters in the U.S., groups that provide international aid say the new coronavirus could spread rapidly through refugee camps. (Adobe Stock)
Much like homeless shelters in the U.S., groups that provide international aid say the new coronavirus could spread rapidly through refugee camps. (Adobe Stock)
March 30, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- An international relief group based in Minnesota is used to responding to conflicts all over the globe, but the pandemic has left it with a situation it's never dealt with before.

The group Alight provides humanitarian and disaster relief to refugees in countries such as Rwanda and Somalia. CEO Daniel Wordsworth said because of travel restrictions, they can't fly doctors and nurses into Minneapolis for training and then dispatch them to areas in need.

"We're just like we've become islands all over the world, that are all inaccessible," Wordsworth said.

Wordsworth said restrictions also make it hard to locate and distribute supplies, such as personal protective equipment. He said the good news is, they have a strong group of teams already established in these countries. They're taking measures such as setting up hand-washing stations with whatever supplies are still trickling through, and educating the people they serve about preventive measures.

Wordsworth said, for example, the teams in Eastern Congo are getting creative by teaching school children about prevention and sanitation measures, in hopes the message will spread to a wider audience.

"And then, we send these 1,700 children back to their homes, back to their villages and communities, as kind-of trained ambassadors to protect their families, their parents and the wider community," he said.

The United Nations estimates 70 million people uprooted by war and persecution are in danger of contracting the new coronavirus. Its refugee agency is trying to raise more than $250 million to lessen the impact in vulnerable areas. As part of that outreach effort, Alight hopes to gather $1 million in donations to help its teams on the ground.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN