The China Development Brief (CDB) Forum 2020 was held in Beijing on December 9, 2020 and focused on “Challenges and Responses for Cross-Border Philanthropy under COVID-19.” Leaders from NGOS and experts in relevant fields discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected organisations’ survival and development, grassroots-level struggles faced by communities, and the pursuit of social wellbeing. Below is an excerpt from an abridged compilation of statements shared by guests participating in Roundtable Discussion 1.
This excerpt concentrates on Save the Children International Chief Representative Guo Zhong’s perspective. Guo discussed the role NGOs can play in pioneering relief policies that can shape better government responses. It’s important NGOs are active in initial stages of emergencies, Guo stressed. Once there is government involvement, NGOs have less of precedent to inform policy. Guo shared the experience of local government cooperation with his organisation during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it contributed to China’s professional approach which NGOs like Save the Children can introduce abroad.
Guo Zhong: I’m from Save the Children International, a century-old organisation dedicated to children’s welfare. Globally, more than 25,000 Save the Children employees are bent on protecting children and actively supporting countries in their efforts to fight the pandemic. Although China is now under normalised epidemic management, many of our programmes in China are still affected from time to time. I think the pandemic is evolving from a public health crisis to an economic crisis. What we need to do as an NGO is to more effectively protect children and more effectively call for their help.
During the pandemic, Save the Children International interviewed 25,000 persons in 37 countries, including more than 8,000 children. According to the estimates of the sampling survey, roughly 1.5 billion children were affected by the pandemic worldwide, and 80% of the children surveyed said they were mostly out of school during the pandemic. The survey did not cover China. In China, a large number of online curricula are available, but there are children in rural areas who have no or poor internet access, and some children do not have cell phones or computers at home. Therefore, the pandemic has had a serious impact on children’s education.
The survey findings also revealed that the incidence of domestic violence was twice as high as usual, as both children and parents stayed at home during the pandemic. The closure of hospitals resulted in children not being able to obtain regular medication when they were sick. In addition, the nutritional health of the children was affected because parents could not afford vegetables and fruits due to reduced family income.
In addition, our analysis of the survey findings shows that 117 million children worldwide are relapsing into poverty, and many girls have to take on household chores and care for their younger siblings at home, leaving less time for studying, which has caused many to academically perform poorly when school restarts. It is also of concern whether the vaccine will be available to the families that need it the most if the pandemic continues like this. It might still take another two to three years before the situation is substantially reversed. In this way, the pandemic will have a huge impact on contemporary children. The ages of 0 to 3 years are the most important stage for a child’s development, but many children in this age group are confined to their homes; the ages of 6 and 7 years are also critical periods for a child’s growth, especially as they are also confined to their homes.
First of all, when it comes to future responses from our perspective, there is a need to reinforce extensive international cooperation. Initiatives or policies for children throughout the world must not ignore the pandemic’s impact on children. Interventions for children should begin as early as possible. In particular, the needs of poor children and poor families should be effectively met in order for children to grow up in good health.
We went through several different phases in China during the epidemic. The epidemic was under-appreciated at the beginning in China, but then we started to mobilise resources globally to support the battle against the epidemic.
We have also carefully reviewed the role of NGOs in the pandemic. Globally, Save the Children has made substantial emergency relief efforts, having always wanted to develop this as a key area of work. Through this pandemic, we have seen that China is different from other countries in the emergency response to the pandemic. As an NGO, we can play a role in the initial stage because at that stage the government must set up a working group to follow through with orders from top to bottom, hence a lag in action. But once the measures and mechanisms are in place, the epidemic response will progress rapidly; once the government acts, there will not be much room for NGOs to act. Therefore, we should effectively leverage the advantage of our flexible mechanism. In the early stage of an emergency, NGOs can often be ahead of the government. They can both pioneer relief actions and share the experience and lessons learned from relief work with the government so the government can do a better job.
The Chinese government has developed a lot of guidelines on epidemic prevention that are very professional, including several editions of diagnosis and treatment manuals. We translated the manuals into English and then shared them. In other countries where we have supported local refugee relief efforts, some local governments have asked Save the Children to support them in setting up isolation wards for COVID-19 patients, and some of the manuals have been useful in this process. The Chinese authorities later published two manuals on “Health and COVID-19 Prevention in Rural and Urban Areas,” and soon we bought the copyrights, translated them into English, and globally promoted their application. In a major crisis, it is important for us as an INGO to introduce the Chinese approach systematically to other countries.
Along with the evolvement of the pandemic, many issues related to children have emerged, and the Chinese government has taken child protection very seriously during the pandemic. However, government policies usually focus on large groups of people and address universal problems. We as NGOs have to focus on individuals and address individual problems, meet the diverse needs of children and support their growth, which constitutes the challenge at the strategic level.