Poverty – October 14 2020

Hungry and forgotten – how the pandemic affects the most vulnerable

Four-year-old Elvira and eight-year-old Amir eat once a day. That is all their parents can afford.

Elvira and Amir's family in North Macedonia became part of the family strengthening programme of SOS Children's Villages in 2017. Over the next two years, SOS co-workers and the children's parents worked hard on improving the family's living circumstances and wellbeing.

The highlight of the family's progress came in late 2019, when Elvira and Amir got a baby brother and their dad, Zamir, found a job as a janitor. The future looked bright and hopeful.

When everything came crashing down

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Schools and kindergartens closed, and businesses followed. Zamir was among the first of nearly 12,000 people in North Macedonia to lose his job in the first three months of the pandemic. The family fell into a deep crisis which almost claimed the life of their youngest child.

COVID-19 has further marginalized vulnerable families. Faced with a new reality and existential problems, these families are often on the brink of survival. The stress, poverty, and discrimination increased the risk of losing their parental capacities and providing inadequate child care.

Life or death

Sanela, the children's mother, stressed over their rapidly deteriorating living situation resulting in the loss of her breast milk. Desperate, she fed the three-month-old baby pasteurized vitaminized milk which made him ill. "It was a life or death situation," Katerina Arsovska, psychologist of SOS Children's Villages, shivers remembering. "We managed to secure 20 cans of baby formula that same day. The doctor said we saved the baby's life."

But, the baby wasn't the only hungry child. The pandemic decreased the availability of state social services. That meant Sanela and Zamir couldn't reapply for welfare after Zamir lost his job. And that meant no food on the table.

For many vulnerable families, the help from SOS Children's Villages is the only source of food. Sanela stretches the contents of their food package to last for a month. "We eat in the late afternoon," says Sanela. "It's our only meal of the day. We can't afford to eat more often. I hear Elvira's tummy grumble, but she tells me she's not hungry."

Education for all

With basic needs having priority, education is not high on their list. Amir stopped going to school the moment schools closed for physical attendance. The family has no computer or smart device leaving the boy completely out of the educational system. It is estimated that about 40,000 children in North Macedonia are in similar situation.

With the help of SOS Children's Villages, Amir was enrolled in the second grade this autumn. "Amir recently returned to school after almost dropping out in March," says Tanja Gjurovska, psychologist at SOS Children's Villages. "We also support him with homework and school stationary. It's important that Amir and other vulnerable children get an education. Education gives them a chance for a better future. Education will break the poverty cycle, and that means no more hungry children."