Kuwait Community

13 March 2023

Perspectives on the Pandemic

When Kuwait’s total lockdown closed homes and businesses in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the nation into an unprecedented state of emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, Kuwaiti officials decided to impose three-month lockdowns on primarily expat populated areas: Mahboula, Jleeb Al Shuyoukh, and Hawally, among other areas.

No one could enter or leave these areas without permits from the government and these lockdowns remained long after Kuwait switched to a curfew. As a result, Kuwait’s marginalized communities, already living in dire financial straits were forced to endure even more financial hardships because of the lockdowns.  

Beginning mid-June 2020, a group of volunteers, first connected on social media, began handing out food, baby supplies, sanitary products, and medicine to those in need. “We were doing regular community drives making sure expats and stateless people who might be struggling with food are taken care of,” said Geoffrey Martin, the Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of Kuwait Aid Network (KAN). “That’s where we saw it; the desperation, the isolation. We saw fear in their eyes, and we had to do something about it. They were surviving with no soap, no medicine, no baby food,” said Martin. “The essentials of a normal life were missing.”

Through these activities, KAN volunteers saw many other deeply-rooted issues that needed to be addressed. In general, expat communities lacked knowledge about official rules and regulations, especially during the pandemic. Often, lockdown announcements and updates about the pandemic were only published in Arabic, leaving residents in a constant cloud of uncertainty, helplessness, and isolation. 

There is a general lack of knowledge about issues on a societal level in Kuwait, according to Khalid al Saif, the General Manager and Chairman of KAN. “Expat communities are out of the loop because we [Kuwaitis] exclude them from bigger conversations. Nationals don’t usually know what expats go through because of that divide, too,” Khalid said. “On top of all of that, we see both groups largely unaware of what the state is doing. This entire communication dilemma hurts us all and drives us apart.” The lack of translated communication and general shared knowledge between different segments of society meant residents were calling KAN to ask for simple information that should have been readily available to all residents of Kuwait, he said.

The lack of information added a disproportionate amount of stress to people’s lives, in addition to the pressure of the pandemic itself. “The pandemic – and the lockdown – are dangerous to the mental health of the public in ways we still don’t understand,” said Jason Sullivan, a therapist at Kuwait Counseling Center and KAN board member. He said, 

The lockdown was more stressful than before, with the old vicious cycle now more amplified. Studies show that around 58% of the subconscious relies on routine; with little to no time and a ruined routine, people shrink back with this time lost and develop more stress. With more stress, there’s little time to follow a healthy routine, and with no time, people get into their dangerous coping mechanisms. Unwinding the unique traumas of this pandemic’s stress on a community level might take decades

The mental health toll on nationals and residents alike is exponential. However, with the latter suffering financial struggles constantly, therapy is out of the question. Residents don’t have the same fears and stresses as nationals, according to Sullivan. Residents suffer from separation from their families, increases in addiction, suicide, and depression. “These are all realities expats face more than nationals,” he said.

In Kuwait, finding people to support a good cause monetarily is not too difficult. So many people both have the means and the will to give money or material for those in need. “Many have reached out since we’ve started. Volunteers, people asking us if there’s anything they can do to help, and a lot of generous donors,” Martin said. “There are so many good people in Kuwait who are extremely generous. We want to channel that generosity straight to those who are hungry, forgotten, or ignored.”

Yet, the most significant obstacles are not to do with money; they are to do with logistics. It isn’t easy to get volunteers to show up and work for an extended period. “Often people come once, snap a few selfies, and disappear for good,” said Martin. He said, 

 More common than anything else is a certain sense of entitlement among the economically well off, who will give money or goods once or twice but never think of loading vehicles, talking on the phone to vulnerable aid seekers, or delivering goods more than once or twice. That’s the kind of assistance that is most required. The biggest challenge we had during the pandemic was getting enough muscle to distribute the goods we had. This issue far predates the pandemic. There is a real shortage of volunteer spirit in the country, which you see in the poor membership rolls of most civil society organizations in Kuwait. Often each organization is less than a handful of people, and the rest are only there to show they care during a photo opportunity. This is the sad and harsh reality we are up against

These challenges are why, alongside KAN’s mission to ensure no one goes hungry in Kuwait, the nonprofit also targets coalition-building among communities and non-governmental organizations.

The most important core value of KAN involves providing technical skills to migrant workers as part of its donation model. With these donations, we employ migrant workers, provide them with opportunities to gain or improve new skills, and give them much-needed support along with food aid. For example, one of KAN’s early successes has been “Project Mary,” a sewing program and class that provides income and training to those who want to learn basic or advanced sewing skills. The products that are made by the migrant workers in this program are sold here. All proceeds go toward our initiatives.

KAN also provided weekly mental health sessions for stakeholders in the community by mental health professionals. Martin explained, 

One of the most important factors in developing the best crisis assistance models is ensuring that stakeholders are practicing self-care and receiving proper training to help address their own mental health needs. In addition, burnout is a major factor in crisis assistance and humanitarian assistance, whether participants are volunteers or long term organizers

KAN organizes and facilitates workshops for community organizers to give them technical tools to build better assistance methods. Recently KAN taught a series of research methods workshops to community stakeholders to develop better survey skills. Gathering information about what various vulnerable communities think is just as important as delivering aid. “It shapes our long-term strategy,” Martin said.

To learn more about KAN and its operations, please visit the various webpages on www.kuwaitaidnetwork.com or contact by email to [email protected].

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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