Havana caritas in Covid’s time

Por: Yarelis Rico Hernández

Migdalia Dopico Paz, directora de Cáritas Habana
Migdalia Dopico Paz, directora de Cáritas Habana

At a difficult time for the world because of the spread of Covid-19, the Church’s charitable mission does not stop. In the Archdiocese of Havana, services continue to be provided to people in need, especially older adults, thanks to the volunteers of Caritas, who are considered “the heart and arms of this Catholic institution”. To learn more about the work of Caritas Habana in the midst of this health emergency, Palabra Nueva spoke with its director, Migdalia Dopico Paz.

What actions has Caritas Habana taken in the face of the current situation caused by Covid-19? Have you prioritized any of your programs? If so, how have you done to reach the beneficiaries of them?

“Because our mission is in the service of charity, we cannot fail to do so at this difficult time for our people and, in particular, for our beneficiaries. In communion with our Archbishop and President of Caritas Habana, Cardinal Juan de la Caridad García, we developed an Action Plan in the face of this situation of health emergency. For this we took into account, fundamentally, the message of the Catholic Bishops of Cuba, the agreements of the council of directors of Caritas Cuba, the opinion of the diocesan team of Caritas Habana and volunteers of all programs, priests and religious in the communities. We value, of course, the situation of the epidemic in the country and the measures taken by the authorities until the day it was developed (24 March).

“We seek to maintain some of our essential services, including food services within the Senior Program, humanitarian aid to well-needed families, and the delivery of medicines. Unsurprisingly, all Program activities involving meetings and work in groups such as GDH (Children, Adolescents and Youth), HIV, Learning to Grow and General Training were suspended. This does not exclude care for vulnerable or needy people in these Programs.

“Elderly food services have two modalities: in canteens that are taken home or picked up at the premises enabled for this purpose, and the second is the delivery of a bag of raw food for a period of time. In all cases, security measures are taken.

“At a second point in April, the situation of people with disabilities in the Learning to Grow program that had been locked in their homes for more than a month was analyzed. In addition to the material sustentum to those most in need, it was supported by some teaching materials (crayolas, clay, etc.) to those who did not have at home. In this way, the family can implement some of the activities of the Program so that beneficiaries do not lose the skills acquired or developed in the workshops and thus occupy their time. Volunteers also make constant accompaniment to families by phone or virtual to answer questions, support or guide. For this modality it was very important the experience that was had this year with the celebration of the Day of Caritas to support people with disabilities and their families in a virtual way”.

Within the measures taken, social isolation seems the safest to prevent the spread of the virus. How does the Caritas diocesan team act to prevent possible contagion among its members and volunteers?

“The team takes all the measures geared towards this epidemic. The Office works with minimum staff, with reduced hours and lower frequency. We have also adopted the way of working from home, the use of means of protection, keeping the recommended distance, the hygiene of premises and people. To move we use the transport of the institution. In the case of volunteers it is similar.”

El equipo de Cáritas Habana toma todas las medidas orientadas para esta epidemia

Do you have any work strategies in place to continue your work should epidemiological measures be extremed? I am thinking, for example, that territories within the diocese can be declared quarantined.

“The fundamental strategy has been to foresee, where possible, a further advance in support for key services covering a longer period, taking into account that the epidemiological situation may worsen.”

Have they established working partnerships with government agencies or institutions to reach more people in need, or has Caritas’ actions developed only from Church spaces and with the collaboration of the faithful, religious and priests?

“The Church always acts from her spaces, but open to collaboration as one more social actor. It always depends on the reality of each place or community. There are places with exchanges between Caritas volunteers and Family Support Services (SAF), so that no elderly person, alone or in need, is left helpless.

“Caritas Habana first appreciates the support of its volunteering and the Christian communities of the Archdiocese where services are developed; clergy, religious congregations, other pastoral groups, and all people of goodwill who in different ways support us. Also to the diocesan team for their dedication and commitment to ensure that services and the national office of Caritas Cuba are not stopped for their timely and necessary management.

“We unite in prayer as a Church that pilgrims in the Archdiocese of Havana and ask our Lady of Charity to intercede for Cubans in the face of this epidemic, especially for the poor who are the favorites of her Son Jesus Christ, and to strengthen in faith, hope and charity all the volunteering of Caritas , to the communities where services operate and to priests and religious who continue to serve at this difficult time.”

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