CESE joins the Homeless Movement of Bahia with humanitarian aid against the pandemic

According to WHO (World Health Organization) and specialists in the area, the best policy to contain the spread of the new coronavirus around the world is social isolation to prevent new infections, personal hygiene measures and the use of masks.  However, in such an unequal country as Brazil, following quarantine recommendations and washing hands frequently is a privilege, while staying at home is a huge challenge for those who live in informal settlements in urban centres.

A survey conducted by Data Favela and the Locomotive Institute with communities in every Brazilian state has demonstrated that a lack of water, food and access to hygiene and cleaning products are among the main obstacles to combatting SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19.  56% of residents only have one more week of supplies for their families – after this they will need to seek alternatives to work and help.

Understanding this to be one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, CESE has once more positioned itself at the centre of discussions about human rights and the defence of life, supporting the emergency actions of the Homeless Movement of Bahia (Movimento Sem Teto da Bahia).

“We are urban workers who fight for housing and decent living conditions with education, health and transport.  The coronavirus outbreak has worsened the subhuman conditions which families within the peripheries experience.  How can we prioritize hygiene if we don’t have the minimum conditions of access to water and basic sanitation, for example?” asked Rita de Cássia Ferreira from the movement’s state coordination team and resident of the Quilombo do Paraíso informal settlement in Colinas de Periperi (Salvador).

In an unequal country such as Brazil, in which extreme poverty affects 13.5 million people and has reached its highest level in 7 years – according to recent research by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE), the pandemic has exposed the most vulnerable – people who live in small and precarious spaces, such as favelas, informal settlements and stilt houses.

Maura Cristina from the Coalition of Movement and Community in the Historic Centre (Articulação de Movimento e Comunidade do Centro Antigo) and from the movement’s state coordination team, raises the issue of race and the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of black women: “It has a very cruel impact on us as black women.  The challenges of work and income, health, mobility, safety and combatting the genocide of black youth is aggravated; we have to keep our homes clean, our children at home, in cubicles with several people, without TV and without enough food.  How can we do this?  The impact is genocide.”

The initiative supported by CESE takes place within the reality of structural racism, where a significant portion of the black population does not have housing – or when they do, does not have basic sanitation, a regular water supply, electricity or conditions favourable to distancing.

Under these circumstances, the project “In sombre times we stitch together hope – the resistance of solidarity activities in the pandemic” is aimed at guaranteeing food, through the donation of staple food baskets to residents in greater social vulnerability, distributing hygiene products and donating masks made by the “Homeless Warriors” – women who constitute this movement.

Further, funds from CESE have enabled an education campaign for settlement families to combat the pandemic, with the dissemination of informative posters and the distribution of educational notebooks about prevention and hygiene measures.  “There are no online classes for children who don’t have shoes.  Let alone access to the internet and mobile phones.  So, in partnership with CESE, we have produced these fun materials to raise awareness with children and families about COVID-19, which has really promoted communication within the informal settlements,” reported Juliana Santos, an activist with the Homeless Movement of Bahia for 16 years.


The communities served include informal settlements located in Salvador’s historic centre (IPAC I, IPAC II e IPAC III), Flores, Liberdade and Pelourinho, as well as Quilombo Paraiso and Toster in the Bahian capital’s railway suburbs (Subúrbio Ferroviário).  Other settlements served are Manuel Faustino on the Derba Highway – BA528, Guerreira Maria Felipa and Guerreira Dandara located in Cassange and the Marielle Franco informal settlement at the border between the cities of Salvador and Simões Filho.


Women on the frontline

On the frontline, are women from the movement, principally those from the “Homeless Warriors” group, which emerged in 2006 to confront sexism and violence against women.  “We are fighting for our place in society, particularly at this moment of pandemic.  Families living in the peripheries are headed by black women who work in the informal market.  How are we going to remain in quarantine if we work today to eat today?  Many are not even registered with the municipalities, their registrations remain under analysis”, reported Rita de Cássia.

Between 26 and 27 March, Data Favela and the Locomotive Institute conducted a new survey about the pandemic scenario in Brazil’s communities.  According to this research, 92% of the mothers interviewed would have problems feeding their children if the income distribution programme did not reach them.  For 34% of these, a lack of food is already a reality.

The situation is complicated by income cuts.  “Car guards, daily and domestic workers, fruit sellers, street traders and baianas de acarajé (sellers of traditional Bahian street food) are all female breadwinners who care for their children alone.  As the city is empty, they cannot work and don’t have enough money to live.  Isolation is necessary, but does not guarantee the minimum required for their survival,” explained Juliana Santos who comes from the Guerreira Zeferina informal settlement and is now a beneficiary of the federal government’s My Home, My Life Programme.

Juliana explained that, despite the situation, the work of the warriors has been essential in confronting the pandemic.  “We are on the frontline, raising funds, producing masks, and creating means for survival within the communities. In the Paraíso informal settlement we have set up water tanks, taps and sinks for handwashing, because there is no water in the home.  And we intend to expand this to other settlements.”

If, on the one hand, securing the lives of those in precarious situations is a challenge, on the other, many solidarity activities are emerging to mitigate these difficulties.  “The struggle does not stop, not even in a time of quarantine.  We are very grateful to CESE and all our partners for the donations we have received.  These resources have been transformed into hope.  We understand that we are not alone, because the most difficult thing at this time is the feeling of loneliness,” Juliana declared.


Campaign “The worst virus is indifference to life!”

In March, the Homeless Movement of Bahia launched an emergency campaign against the sanitary crises caused by COVID-19.  With the slogan “The worst virus is indifference to life!” the initiative hopes to collect food and personal hygiene products, staple food baskets, hand sanitizer and/or funds and foodstuffs for informal settlements that lack basic sanitation and regular water supply.  The products are being stored at the Quilombo do Paraíso Informal Settlement, next to the Hospital do Subúrbio in Salvador.  Most residents are not able to earn their living.