UNICEF Eswatini partners with social workers for continuity of services during COVID-19

During this time, UNICEF continued to be in the frontlines of the response working with partners to support and strengthen the government’s response efforts in Eswatini.

Kingsley Gwebu
People standing indoors, posing for camera
UNICEF Eswatini/2021
16 March 2021

When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, the world came to a standstill. Governments around the world imposed restrictions on travel to try and curb the spread of the novel, highly contagious virus that was quickly spreading around the world. Some of these measures halted the delivery of social protection services for vulnerable populations including children and women. In Eswatini, the first partial lockdown was announced in March 2020 as COVID-19 cases continued to surge around the world. During this time, UNICEF continued to be in the frontlines of the response working with partners to support and strengthen the government’s response efforts in Eswatini.

One of the major setbacks caused by COVID-19 lockdown regulations was the inability for social workers to continue working at a time when vulnerable populations needed them the most. In response to this, UNICEF supported the training of 70 (100%) social workers on child protection during Covid-19; the adaptation of response protocols; and the strengthening of child related data. UNICEF also procured and distributed 70 tablets for social workers to strengthen social services during the pandemic. These were used to support the continuity of services, virtual trainings on case management during COVID-19, rapid assessments, and the broader social work mandate.

Some of the tablets provided by UNICEF to social workers to continue providing services during COVID-19
UNICEF Eswatini/2021
Some of the tablets provided by UNICEF to social workers to continue providing services during COVID-19

Thando Dube, a social worker in the Shiselweni region says the scariest part for him was having to take children in need of care and protection to a place of safety.

” As a social worker you don’t want to be the one transmitting the virus and putting many children and care givers at risk”, says Thando explaining how COVID-19 affected his work as a social worker.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty and fear as WHO continued to lead research efforts to ascertain how the virus was transmitted and what people should do to avoid being infected. Thando explains that as a social worker, he was not immune to the virus and he was constantly concerned about the possibility of being blamed for bringing the virus to the people he was helping, especially the elderly who needed assistance with validation processes to receive their elderly grants.

In 2020, about 350 000 learners were forced to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thando is quick to add that the closure of schools affected children adversely.

“Most of the abuse cases are reported by schools but this time many teenage girls fell pregnant and cases were not reported because they were not allowed to leave their homes. This was also the case with physical abuse”, adds Thando.

He further states that the lockdown regulations did not include social welfare services as an essential service which subsequently led to several cases not being reported. He adds that most physical and sexual abuse cases happened because children and woman were confined and had nowhere to go.

In response to the plight of countless children and women who were left more vulnerable to violence by the pandemic, UNICEF in collaboration with The Bantwana Initiative supported social workers to continue providing services remotely to these vulnerable populations through the procurement of tablets and airtime and PPE including facemasks. Through this timely intervention, social workers continued providing services remotely as the pandemic also tightened its grip on service delivery systems.  

Bagunini Nxumalo, who is a social worker based in Mbabane in the Hhohho region says COVID-19 had a very negative impact on her work as a social worker. “At first, working remotely was difficult because some matters need us to respond in person but because of COVID-19 we were restricted,” explains Bagunini. She adds that the travelling restrictions also meant that they were unable to do frequent home visits and respond effectively to the situation on the ground.

UNICEF provided us with tablets, airtime and data, so were able to continue working from home, calling clients and attending meetings remotely”, states Bagunini appreciating the support provided by UNICEF for them to continue working.

She further states that as social workers, they would appreciate continued support even in future pandemics because it allows them to work remotely and continue delivering services to vulnerable populations who desperately need them.

“This kind of support also ensures accountability on our side as social workers because we won’t have a reason not  to deliver services if we have been empowered with all the tools to continue doing so”, adds Bagunini emphasizing the importance of the support that was provided by UNICEF.

UNICEF continues to respond to the needs of children in emergency situations and collaborating with partners and the government to realize a better world for every child.