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Thematic Issues

COVID Blog #10: How Can Technology Help BC Health Workers on The Frontlines?

As life almost returns to normal for us living in British Columbia, we must not forget our health-care workers. The spread of COVID-19 has appeared to slow down, largely because health workers are still very much at the frontline of this battle.

Being at the frontline of health-care has always been a gruelling duty, and their existing stress is undoubtedly exacerbated during the pandemic. From saving the lives of those around them to keeping their own lives and mental health in check, health-care workers have a lot on their plate. These times are fearful for all of us, but those on the frontlines have to confront this fear, and virus, every day at work.

It is important that we appreciate and support health-care workers in their navigation through these inordinate times. Fortunately, technological tools can really help address the everyday dilemmas faced by frontline workers. Some innovative companies are using mobile apps to help alleviate the burdens faced by BC health-workers.

Appnovation is an app designed to help BC health workers contain the spread of COVID-19. Since health-care workers often work at multiple homes or hospitals, they themselves are at risk for spreading the virus. Appnovation tracks real-time information on where each health-care worker is located. The app then sends this information back to regional health authorities, assisting them in making important decisions. This provides transparency as well as contact-tracing information, which is crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“Through Appnovation’s consultation, data analytics and real-time insights, we’ve already been able to identify hot spots within the provincial healthcare facilities where there’s a lot of staff working at multiple sites,“ said Scott Wassmer, General Manager of Americas at Appnovation.

This app has proven invaluable to British Columbia, and will hopefully be implemented in other provinces around the country.

Health workers on the frontline have busy schedules, managing both hospital and home life. An app called Blue helps health-care workers leverage their network to aid them in their daily chores. Users register neighbours, friends or family to a support team who can view any tasks they may need help with. These tasks range from meal preparation to shopping for groceries or picking up a relative.  Requests can be placed when health-care workers are unable to make a commitment.

Psychologically, providing essential emergency care can be draining. The Canadian Psychology Association is providing pro-bono over the phone counselling and support for frontline workers.

Additionally, The Canadian Medical Association has services catered towards medical professionals. They have a wellness line where medical professionals can receive tailored mental health services.

While health is at the front of our minds, it is important to recognize and respond to the varied needs of the frontline workforce.

Please let us know if there are any other apps or tech specifically for BC frontline workers that we didn’t mention in the comments below.

Jun 28, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #9: How To Protect Your Child Online During the Pandemic (And Beyond)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented time for everyone, but especially children. In an instant, their entire lives were adapted to become completely virtual. Schools, playgrounds, parks, and social gatherings across Canada and the globe were shut down to protect the public from the spread of the virus.

Since this pandemic has begun, children and teenagers had to quickly adapt to moving their academic and social lives from real life to online. Families are now relying on technology to help keep children educated, entertained and connected to their friends and family.

Technology has been an amazing tool for children during this pandemic. However, it also comes with a heightened risk of cyber bullying and harassment. Cybertip.ca, an online tip line for the sexual exploitation of children that is operated by the Canadian Centre of Child Protection, had a spike in reports this past April.

Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, told Global BC News, “We typically receive [about] six reports a day. Now, [we’ve been getting] about 10 reports a day.”

Sauer also told Global BC that there is a correlation between the pandemic shutdown and the spike in cases of online sexual harassment of children. Since children are mostly staying home, they are likely going online more often.
Predators are aware of this and are taking advantage of it. This situation may be even more dangerous if a child is left unsupervised while their parents work from home.

So how can we protect our children during this unprecedented time? We’ve  compiled a list of tips and strategies for families to help protect their children of the online dangers during the pandemic (and beyond).

Educate your child about technology by using technology

Protecting your child by helping educate them on the dangers of the online world is the first step of prevention. It is important to help explain to children the risks so they can be more aware and help prevent potential dangers themselves.

There are many website forums that have excellent explainers geared towards children. Cybertip.ca has great resources for children under the age of 11 and children over the age of 12.

There are also great virtual games that help teach children online safety. In our previous blog post on surviving domestic violence during the pandemic, we touched on Media Smarts creating various educational online games to help children learn about online safety.

Zoe & Molly Online is another helpful  online resource to help teach children about online safety. It is an interactive game geared towards kids in grades 3-4. As children progress through the game, the level of knowledge will increase.

Educate yourself about the games or apps your child is using

Just as important as it is to educate your child, taking the time to learn about online safety as a parent will also help prevent online dangers.

ProtectKidsOnline.ca is a fantastic resource to help keep parents educated on the best practices of online safety for kids. They cover a variety of topics for online safety, keep up-to-date with emerging issues and help profile and identify concerning behaviours. They also have an Ask A Question page, where you can email directly with any questions that you may have but couldn’t find the answer to on their website.

Another great resource for parents to have to help protect their children is simply learning about an app or game that your child uses. Knowing how an app or game works will help you as a parent monitor and manage your child’s online time or even help you decide if the program is not safe at all for your child to use.

YouTube is another helpful website to utilize in learning about almost any game or app, as many people post videos of tutorials and reviews. There are also many educational video channels designed to be resources specifically for parents.

Monitor and manage your child’s screen time

Despite most parents being at home with their children during the pandemic, it is not easy to be monitoring their children while they are online, as many parents are trying to balance parenting and working from home. However, there are a lot of great apps that can help with monitoring and managing online time for children.

Bark is one of the top apps to help manage your children’s online activity without being invasive on their privacy. It provides a simple overview of all of your child’s online activity. If you see anything suspicious, it allows you the option to dig deeper.

Many social media websites also have great tools to help monitor your kid’s online account. Facebook has created Messenger Kids, which helps kids stay connected with their friends but allows parents to monitor their account.

For a list of more apps, check out this link.

If you suspect your child is being harassed

If you believe your child is at risk of cyber exploitation, there are many resources you can use to reach out for help.

Cyber tip.ca has a report form that you can fill out to get assistance. If needed, they will also send your report to local authorities if your child is at a high risk.

If you know your child is at immediate risk, please contact your local police or call 9-1-1 right away.

For more tips on how to protect your child online, check out this link.

Are there any resources we missed? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!

Jun 19, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #8: How the pandemic is affecting the path to immigration and Canadian citizenship

Immigrating to a new country is already a daunting and scary prospect on its own.

Imagine having to immigrate or navigate a citizenship application in the middle of a global pandemic.

This is the reality that many are finding themselves in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic has caused a delay in application processing times, which is leaving the status of citizenship applications in limbo. Many are having to apply for visa extensions that only add anxiety and stress.

A Windsor couple has experienced firsthand how the pandemic has affected issues of citizenship. Michelle Bernier, who usually resides in Windsor, Ontario, had crossed over to Detroit in mid-March -- the night before the Canada-US border had closed for non-essential travel -- and is now being prevented from being reunited with her husband in Windsor. Bernier is in the process of getting her Canadian citizenship and her visitor’s visa recently expired.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has informed citizenship applicants that they have an additional 90 days to submit all of their required documents, and are still accepting new applications for Canadian citizenship. All citizenship events, such as ceremonies and tests, have been cancelled until further notice in the interest of public safety.

The pandemic’s domino effect on citizenship applications

While accommodations have been put into place for the current situation, many applicants are still dealing with their own unique struggles.

“Most citizenship applications require documents from the applicants’ home country, such as a certificate of good conduct, for example, and this would be hard to attain since most countries are on lockdown,” says Ryan Drew, Program Director of Integrated Settlement Services at settlement agency SUCCESS.

She also added that many potential applicants are feeling the financial strain of the pandemic after getting laid off and losing their source of income – leading to them being unable to afford the fees for a citizenship application.

As for those waiting for an update? The uncertainty continues to have a domino effect of impact on other aspects of their lives – such as being able to apply for a passport.

“Until now, people who passed the citizenship exam have not been notified when their oath-taking will take place. This is preventing them from becoming Canadian citizens, which leaves them unable to apply for a passport,” says Drew. “Some of the individuals waiting for the oath-taking could be Iranians who are unable to renew their expired Iranian passports since there is no embassy in Canada.”

Seeking asylum in a global pandemic

The pandemic is also affecting refugees who are seeking asylum in Canada. For those seeking to travel to Canada by plane, travel restrictions have dictated that aircraft carriers are required to deny boarding to those who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents, with limited exceptions.

A temporary agreement between Canada and the U.S. states that individuals entering Canada from the U.S. to make an asylum claim will be temporarily sent back to the U.S. and individuals entering the U.S. from Canada looking to make an asylum claim will be temporarily sent back to Canada.

Accommodations and resources

As in many other instances during the COVID-19 pandemic, the adaptability and resiliency of individuals also shows in those applying for Canadian citizenship. A historic first virtual citizenship ceremony was held for a University of Manitoba professor researching solutions for the economic impact of the pandemic. Virtual citizenship ceremonies are becoming a viable option for those who need citizenship status for urgent reasons.

While not everyone can experience the benefits of being granted their citizenship status virtually, there are resources to help alleviate the stress of uncertainty during this time. Settlement agencies such as SUCCESS, MOSAIC and WelcomeBC are still offering their services to help with transitioning to life in Canada over phone or email.

The UN Refugee Agency of Canada (UNHCR) has compiled this webpage with evolving updates and resources for refugees seeking asylum in Canada. The International Organization for Migration has also listed facts about COVID-19 and key resources for migrants on their website.

The Arrival Advisor app by PeaceGeeks is also a valuable and comprehensive tool for newcomers to Canada – offering guidance and resources on the legal system and immigration, settling in Canada, and everything in between.

If there are any resources that we haven’t mentioned here, feel free to add them in the comments below. We’re looking forward to welcoming Canada’s newest residents and incoming citizens by making them feel welcome in their journey every step of the way.
 

Jun 3, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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Why we need to focus on what immigrants bring to Canada

By PeaceGeeks

Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Canada. Many Canadians are worried immigration is straining our public infrastructure and changing Canada for the worse. Six in 10 Canadians believe the government is hiding the true cost of immigration to taxpayers and society, while four in ten feel there are too many immigrants in Canada, according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Global News. Meanwhile, right-wing columnists, as well as influential media outlets south of the border, promote stereotypes of immigrants as job-stealers and welfare-drains.

Yet, immigration is essential for the Canadian economy. In the face of Canada’s aging population and low birth rate, immigrants keep our workforce from shrinking and ensure our government has a healthy tax base, according to research by the Conference Board of Canada. An estimated 250,000 Canadians are expected to retire each year in the coming decade, leaving enormous gaps in the labour market that could be at least partially filled by the 300,000-odd newcomers that arrive in Canada every year. And those numbers don’t even account for the multifaceted ways in which immigrants enrich our public and cultural life.   

So, what accounts for the disconnect between the contributions of immigrants and Canadians’ perceptions? Part of the problem is our current model of immigration is focused on deficiencies. Often, the public is exposed to information about what newcomers are lacking, rather than the hope, education, expertise or entrepreneurial instincts newcomers bring with them to Canada.

We, in the immigrant- and refugee-serving sector, can play an important role in shifting this conversation. In fact, it is critical for moving towards Settlement 2.0 — that is, a more effective settlement sector that embraces innovation and empowers newcomers to be agents in their own settlement journey. In order to improve, we need a broader societal approach to settlement, according to research by PeaceGeeks that engaged over 80 stakeholders through consultations and interviews across Canada. That means, shifting our vocabulary and helping Canadians understand the contributions newcomers make.   

To begin with, the settlement sector should reassess how we communicate among ourselves. One critical way we can do this is by moving towards asset-based language, rather than needs-based language, across our programming. This can help emphasize the value immigrants bring to Canada. Many employment and mentorship programs have already taken this approach to heart. Rather than focusing on newcomers’ lack of Canadian experience, for example, they focus on how newcomers can fill labour market gaps or create new businesses with their skills, education and lived experiences.

Settlement agencies can also engage their local community in a conversation about how immigration helps their locality. In Windsor, the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario’s We Value Partnership is working on improving immigrant integration by focusing on the assets newcomers bring to the region. Rather than putting new clients through a needs-based assessment, the program uses a capacity-focused settlement assessment that evaluates their strengths, talents and skills alongside areas where they need support. Then, it connects them with services in a way that emphasizes their assets, while using the data to talk about the value of newcomers for the region.

An asset-based approach can also empower immigrants to improve the settlement process. For example, the Refugee Livelihoods Lab at at RADIUS SFU, a social innovation hub at Simon Fraser University, brings together racialized newcomers to find solutions to barriers and discrimination they face by tapping into their own skills and experiences. Participants work together to develop solutions to system problems, including products, businesses and initiatives. Their outputs range from a pop-up market for newcomer women with small businesses to a story-telling app that addresses social isolation among newcomers. So far, they’ve engaged over 900 community members. In addition, 76% of the program’s first cohort had improved employment outcomes, such as finding work more closely related to their skill-set or launching their own business.

The whole settlement sector stands to benefit from widely adopting an approach that recognizes newcomers as assets. In addition to improving programming, this would help us engage our broader community in a positive settlement conversation and promote a whole-of-society approach to integrating newcomers. Shifting the discourse and helping Canadians understand the value of immigration can start with us.


 

Jun 1, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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The Canadian settlement sector needs a refreshed funding model

By PeaceGeeks

Too often, mothers new to Canada struggle to find work because childcare is too expensive. With a little one at home, basic things, like attending a resume workshop or applying for jobs online, can be a struggle. It also compounds other challenges, like language barriers and a lack of Canadian experience, that most newcomers face.

The Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, which serves immigrant and refugee women, realized this problem contained its own solution. In 2018, it created a program that trains immigrant women interested in early childhood education to fill the gap. Participants care for the children of other women to free them up for events — like job hunting workshops they might otherwise miss.

Now operating as Pop-up Childcare, the initiative has taken newcomer women to settings ranging from corporate events to conferences to provide childcare for attendees. Their skills are in high demand. The 16 women who participated in the program’s first training cohort, run in partnership with Vancouver Community College, all found jobs before they completed the program.

Simple, but innovative, the program tackles a widespread problem. But ideas like Pop-up Childcare don’t get implemented often enough. Settlement workers find it can be a struggle to design and implement creative initiatives to solve well-known problems in the settlement sector, according to research by PeaceGeeks.

To obtain their perspective, PeaceGeeks carried out an extensive literature review and interviewed 36 stakeholders, including representatives of settlement organizations of different sizes from rural and urban areas across Canada in 2019.  PeaceGeeks also worked with Simon Fraser University to run community consultations in Vancouver and Surrey in July 2019 that drew 56 participants, including newcomers, front-line service providers, settlement sector leadership, programming partners and private sector funders, to discuss how to improve the sector.

Even though Canada is seen as a global leader when it comes to immigration, representatives of many settlement agencies told PeaceGeeks that funding structures make them feel like they’re in survival mode, leaving settlement workers with little capacity to innovate. Reporting requirements and funding structures also stifle innovation by giving agencies a lack of room to fail. Meanwhile, stories abound of successful pilots that couldn’t obtain government funding to scale.

Our discussions pointed to three key ways IRCC can refresh its funding model to foster innovation and agility. 

Reevaluating funding structures

First, IRCC should think about developing more flexible funding structures. In particular, sector leaders told PeaceGeeks that IRCC needs to reevaluate five-year funding cycles and consider a fast-track option for established programs. Currently, successful well-established initiatives have to reapply for funding every five years in the same manner as new, untested ones. Settlement agencies end up spending months filling out applications to ensure funding for programs with a track record of success — that’s time and resources that could be directed to helping newcomers instead. 

At the same time, the circumstances of newcomers coming to Canada change more rapidly than every five years. Too often, settlement workers find themselves restricted by five-year agreements that don’t account for the needs of the latest batch of newcomers or give them flexibility to move around funding as new priorities emerge.  They may also find themselves struggling to incorporate new technologies or innovations they hadn’t mentioned in their funding application.

This forces resourceful workers to test ideas with their own resources off of the side of their desks. When a staff member at an agency in Ontario, for example, thought of running English lessons for Syrian refugees who couldn’t attend classes over Whatsapp, she had to use her own smartphone. It wasn’t until she’d proven the model worked that her agency was able to get funding for a work smartphone. 

Fostering innovation and collaboration

Second, IRCC should consider how its funding model can foster collaboration and innovation. For starters, settlement agencies need funding agreements that give them room to experiment without fear they’ll lose funding if their ideas fail. Funding  agreements need to recognize that making mistakes is a critical element of the innovation process. And, if settlement agencies pilot  ideas that succeed, they need support to scale them up. Too often, industry veterans, disheartened by successful pilots they couldn’t expand, are hesitant to try something new.

IRCC should also think about how to refresh its funding model to foster collaboration. During consultations, sector participants told PeaceGeeks they feel like they are in competition for limited resources, leaving them hesitant to work together. Rather than using funding applications to simply divvy up funds, IRCC could broker partnerships between agencies with similar or complementary proposals.

IRCC could also consider creating a national data strategy with a focus on helping agencies share knowledge and best practices by creating more transparency about what programs are being funded and how well they work. Right now, agencies share data about their programs with IRCC, but they don’t get feedback or information about what’s happening in the rest of the sector — or how their programs compare. For example, a list of programs funded by IRCC’s Service Delivery Improvements program, which funds innovative ideas, isn’t available to settlement agencies. If agencies don’t know how others are experimenting, it’s harder for them to learn from one another.

Creating a dialogue 

Finally, IRCC should engage in a national dialogue with the settlement sector about how  to improve its funding structures. Like our local community consultations, this dialogue should include newcomers, front-line service providers, sector leadership, programming partners, other funders, as well as representatives from other sectors working on innovation.

The agencies who spoke to PeaceGeeks have many ideas for improvement, but they need a forum to share them.  Canada has long held a reputation as a world leader when it comes to immigration and inclusion. Opening up the conversation will ensure the settlement sector continues to flourish and innovate. 

 

 

May 27, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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Why the future of settlement is grounded in community

By PeaceGeeks

When Gulalai Habib moved to Canada as a refugee from a war-torn country 20 years ago, she made some of her first friends and connections at her local neighborhood house. Within three months of her arrival, she started helping other newcomers, while bonding with the community over conversations and cups of tea. It helped her turn Burnaby into her home.

In contrast, newcomers sometimes feel lost in the halls of immigrant- and refugee-serving agencies. Even though the settlement sector was built with community in mind, administrative and bureaucratic systems can get in the way. In spite of the best efforts of settlement workers, some newcomers wind up ducking in and out of settlement offices for appointments without lingering to form meaningful connections. In other cases, newcomers may feel a sense of being bounced from here to there, as they’re referred from service to service across the city to access resources they need.

A growing number of settlement agencies are responding to this challenge by grounding settlement work in community organizations. Newcomers can now visit the Vancouver Public Library, for example, for free programs and resources to help them find jobs, explore careers and start businesses. Meanwhile, many neighbourhood houses run settlement services alongside community services like childcare, food banks and cultural events.

“It’s important for long-term integration that newcomers are not separated, but engaged and integrated with the community,” says Habib, who currently works as the Director of Settlement and Employment Programs at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House in Vancouver.

The results of community-oriented initiatives indicate the approach helps ease the instability and uncertainty associated with settling in a new country, according to research by PeaceGeeks. Such programs also allow newcomers to expand their networks, find volunteer opportunities that can lead to work, and form friendships that ease the loneliness and sense of displacement that may come with a big move. In fact, the approach is so powerful that the settlement sector should consider grounding its efforts in community wherever possible. 

This recommendation is based on a collaborative research project carried out by PeaceGeeks to figure out how the sector could move towards a Settlement 2.0 — a more innovative, agile and effective settlement sector. The research included consultations and interviews with more than 80 stakeholders, including workers from settlement organizations of varying sizes from urban and rural areas across Canada. In our interactions, successful examples of settlement services grounded in community came up again and again.

Communities across Canada, for example, have found that situating settlement workers within schools is an effective way to integrate newcomer children and their families in a community setting they already visit. In BC, the Surrey School District has taken its settlement initiative to the next level with an English Language Learner Welcome Centre. The centre has helped more than 12,000 newcomers integrate into both the school system and the wider community with services like language assessments and community events. Perhaps most importantly, the setup makes it easier for newcomer parents to connect with other families and practice English — all while ensuring their children receive support to help them integrate into the school system.

Settlement services can also create a sense of community through design. For example, the Immigrant Services Society of BC’s Welcome Centre, which opened in 2016, was purposefully designed to build community. The centre integrates housing for refugees, settlement services, English classes, a medical clinic, a preschool and childcare centre, and more. In this way, the Centre addresses the varied needs of newcomers in one place where they can connect with one another. 

Settlement services grounded in community are effective because they address newcomers’ needs in a holistic way and help them form deeper connections with those around them. Not only do newcomers become more familiar with Canada, but locals get to know them too. This approach recognizes that integration is a two-way process — one that brings together newcomers and Canadians in community centres, schools and public spaces. At the end of the day, settlement happens in community.

 

May 25, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #7: Fear and Discrimination During COVID-19 Amplifies the Marginalization of Societies

As the pandemic has continued to spread across the globe, society as we know it has gravely changed. Quarantining ourselves at home and limiting our social distance when out on essential trips has become the new normal.

Fear and a lack of information has led to the harbouring of irrational beliefs regarding COVID-19 – specifically, racist ideologies pertaining to ethnic groups fostering the pandemic.  People are blaming stigmatized groups for ‘bringing in’ the virus. This discriminatory fear has spread like the virus itself, with hate crimes increasing around the globe.

“It's really clear since the emergence of COVID-19 that there has been a rise in racism here in Canada and there's also lots of reports of that around the world,” said Christine Hanson, director of the commission and chair of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies.

Throughout history, outbreaks have been associated with ‘othering’ – a set of dynamics and structures that continue to perpetuate inequalities among marginalized groups. In an attempt to console uncertainty and fear, humans often turn to an inadvertent need to blame. From the Bubonic Plague in the 1900s,  SARS in 2002, and Ebola in 2014, minorities were accused of spreading the disease.

Blaming the ‘other’ is often easiest in the face of ignorance. This blame may start as a way to fill in the gaps, but is dangerous as it tends to grow. Discrimination turns into verbal or physical attacks which becomes constitutionalized in the form of systems such as racial profiling.

COVID-19 and Asian communities

Asian communities are especially subjected to scrutiny, as xenophobia has spiked around the world. There are countless reports about Asians facing verbal and sometimes physical attacks while out in public.

Cargill’s High River meat processing plant is the site of Canada’s largest COVID-19 outbreak. Around 70% of the workers there are of Filipino descent, and have reported being treated with hostility.

Marginalized societies

Fear fosters discrimination, and marginalized societies are now facing greater stigmatization.

In China, Africans are the most visible ethnic minorities. There, they are being accused of spreading COVID-19. It has transitioned to people being banned from restaurants and facing evictions from their homes.

Prejudice and unjust treatment isn’t only exclusive to ethnic minorities. Religious minorities are also facing abrasive treatment amid the pandemic. In Pakistan, Christians and Hindus, the minority religious groups in that country, are being denied aid.

Shia pilgrims in Iran have been left there with no way to get back to their home in Bahrain. Although this was implemented as a travel ban to help contain the virus, the minority Shia group was not given the option to return under quarantine measures. Given that there is a hostile history between the Shia minorities and Sunni majorities in Bahrain, this has likely worsened the issue.

Technology and discrimination

Social media has played its part in spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Some declare it to be ‘the Chinese disease’ and have gone as far as to create racially-loaded aliases

Zoombombing is a recent social media development in which uninvited individuals enter a private Zoom meeting. This is often done as a means to bully and frighten those on the call.

Earlier in April, a Jewish community in London was subject to racist zoombombing. A BBC employee was participating in this synagogue Zoom meeting when people started rapidly joining. The group chat filled up with "vile abuse", according to the BBC employee. It was a clear and disturbing anti-Semitic attack. The majority of those on the call were families with children.

Social media researchers found that the coronavirus pandemic coincides with a spread of anti-Chinese resentment. Online attacks and the spread of misinformation is not just upsetting, but dangerous, as the abuse often does not stay in the cyber world. More East Asians are getting verbally and physically attacked, as well as having their businesses boycotted. “The words are like a virus, that leads to actions that are visible,” says Joel Finkelstein, director of the Network Contagion Research Institute.

Apps for peace

Several apps have emerged to help spearhead collective peace-building models. Two weeks ago, CTV announced that an app to document racist incidents was launched. Act2endracism is a tool created by Asian-Canadian communities in Edmonton to report and combat the increase in verbal and racial discrimination. The app also offers support to both victims and bystanders.

PrejudiceTracker is an app that offers a worldwide, anonymous platform for reporting discriminatory maltreatment. It provides a safe place for people to share their incidents, as well as acts as a real-time map to show where these assaults occurred. 

Moving forward

While many countries prepare to ease out of quarantine, we must realize that things will not suddenly return to how life was before. Racial tensions and profiling are now exacerbated and we must all do our part in helping minorities safely navigate through these perilous times. This starts with education and attitudes of acceptance.

Outbreaks monger fear and “fear is a key ingredient for racism and xenophobia to thrive.” No one is responsible for the spread of COVID-19. The virus is inclusive, a collective problem--it is a danger to all of us, regardless of our race or socioeconomic status.

At PeaceGeeks, we constantly seek to provide updated information regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities through weekly articles. Other sources we recommend checking are governmental and provincial sites and institutions such as the World Health Organization.

May 23, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #6: Communities Come Together During COVID With Mutual Aid

Mutual aid emerging in communities to assist the vulnerable or marginalized during times of crisis is not a new concept. It has existed in societies for our lifetime. At its core, the catalyst for mutual aid is a grassroots responsibility to care for one another in times when the government, healthcare, and other systems are not capable enough to reach all the people affected.

PeaceGeeks has been both a local and global participant in supporting mutual aid action during times of crisis. Through our participation in Random Hacks of Kindness, we have supported projects that directly benefit non-governmental humanitarian organizations with digital tools, including mapping essential services for refugees and community empowerment for local networks of citizens. Our work with The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) culminated in a technology-driven networking site capable of connecting members, amplifying GNWP’s message to a broad audience, and attracting new members, partners, and donors.

The beauty of mutual aid is that in every instance it is a humanitarian response to assist others in a time of need. It is relief on a human scale directly from one group to specific people in communities. In some cases, the government has failed its people and mutual aid provides a bridge to assist every person through a challenging time. Different from a charity organization, mutual aid creates a symbiotic rather than a dependent relationship between reciprocators where operations are driven by volunteers to match the immediate needs of community members.

Canadian Mutual Aid

Local organizers in our hometown of Vancouver came together to build the VancouverSupport.ca site as a prototype for Metro Vancouver communities and others throughout British Columbia to exchange resources. The demand for this kind of resource exchange has exploded to include a COVID-19 Coming Together Facebook page.

Throughout Canada, many organizations have advocated tirelessly to fill the gaps between the Federal Government response and calls to action for vulnerable communities. The Mutual Aid Network Canada has published this comprehensive list of Community Response Networks with touchpoints across our country.

People coming together to help others during COVID is considered in Canada to be an essential service. There is a legal order to protect people and volunteers against any liability for their response during this pandemic. It is beneficial for nonprofits that provide care, food, social support services, and other necessities of life, for poor or vulnerable people. It covers the range of Canadian food banks, community kitchens, and outreach for unsheltered people that need direct human-to-human support at this critical time.

Mutual Aid Networks

Many examples of mutual aid networks are created using Google docs and forms so they are accessible for every participant. Slack is moderating a COVID-19 mutual aid network and users can easily locate volunteer-driven initiatives in their community. Slack also identified this North American database of localized resources offering local and national resources as well as support networks for healthcare providers and mental health supports.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a North American grassroots disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. They pride themselves on being a people-powered relief effort. They have experience in many crisis situations and were able to quickly mobilize efforts during the COVID pandemic. This network Collective Care Is Our Best Weapon was immediately accessible at the start of the pandemic and is now managed by Mutual Aid Disaster Relief.

In the United Kingdom, the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK group of volunteers mobilized to coordinate care efforts for people who are self-isolating and those that are higher risk demographics, including the elderly, disabled, and those with pre-existing health issues. Individuals can find local resources in their community to provide support and resources.

PeaceGeeks’ Mission
Social systems in every country are affected by the global COVID crisis and community-led responses can often mobilize faster than government initiatives. The inequities in every society and the vulnerable in our communities existed before the crisis. With hope, all the awareness built during the crisis may help improve the future network of mutual aid after the crisis ends.

Human connection helps us to all stay resilient during this unprecedented global crisis. PeaceGeeks supports strong collaboration in communities and promotes connections between like-minded individuals to create a world where every person can step up to amplify hope for others. Our blog shares indispensable information in support of peacebuilders, healthcare responders, educators in vulnerable communities, mutual aid networks, and real-time tools for all citizens.

If you would like to share a resource in your area for global citizens to locate their base of mutual aid, please contribute to this blog. 

 

May 17, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #5: A Survivor’s Resource Guide on Tech Safety and Support – Combating Domestic Violence During and Beyond COVID-19

We are facing vast changes in our daily lives due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Some of us, mostly women and children, however, are experiencing more immediate dangers. Reports of domestic violence have spiked across the globe as countries implement social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Canada is no exception and the severity of domestic abuse that is being reported is increasing.

“In times of social distancing and mass lay-offs, people are working from home, they are with their abuser, and having a hard time reaching out,” warns Rhiannon Wong, Technology Safety Project Lead at BC Society of Transition Houses. Right now, technology is a high-stakes link between survivors and their access to support networks and services. With that in mind, we’ve compiled resources on tech safety to support people experiencing domestic violence during this time. 

Knowing the signs

While in isolation and social distancing, understanding the technical signs of technology-based abuse can be difficult. In a recent New York Times article, Sam Harvon, PhD candidate at Cornell Tech, warns that poor battery life and quickly depleted data are likely signs that an abuser is using spyware to monitor and control social media accounts, text messages, and GPS location.

For less tech-savvy abusers, direct monitoring of devices and accounts is possible by reviewing web history logs and tracking geolocation tags on apps like Find My iPhone, Snapchat maps, or on social media posts, such as on Instagram and Facebook check-ins. Further, take note of where you leave your personal electronics and any online activity you left open. A change in location or closed activity could be a sign of monitoring. 

Tools and Strategies for Survivors Using Technology for Support and Assistance

While there is no set scenario for the ways in which a survivor can experience violence, the resources below are meant to be applied by the survivor to their own context. In emergency situations, call 9-1-1 for help.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or suspect you are at-risk and don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone, there are alternatives.

One Love provides personalized risk assessments and assistance in creating safety plans through their myPlan app. If the assessment does not feel right, listen to your gut instincts.

Alternatively, online chat rooms through local shelters and national helplines are available to listen and provide counsel. For male-identifying survivors, gender-specific services and resources are here.

Newcomers to Canada can access safety and legal information in multiple languages using this registry.

Religion-based services are also available, such as NISA Helpline for Muslim women seeking support and assistance.

Some services are still being provided in-person, but if the abuser is tech-savvy avoid parking near the shelter.

If you suspect you are being monitored but aren’t sure, do not attempt to search for the spyware or delete it. Many spyware applications notify the person who installed the technology into your devices and doing so without a safety plan in place may put you at risk. Instead, consider downloading a tech safety app, such as TechSafety, on a secure device or ask an ally to download it on their device to share the safety information with you.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers tech-specific advice on monitoring and keeping safe. If safe to do so, you can call toll-free at 1-866-863-0511. Deaf, blind and people with hearing impairments can call their TTY helpline at 1-866-863-7868.

If downloading an app is not possible, you can access tech safety information in incognito mode. While incognito, your searches will be private and unsearchable by others using your device. Ensure you have properly closed the incognito search window, especially if this information is being accessed through a smartphone. In addition, you can clear your browsing history of your recent searches if you forget to hit “incognito” beforehand. Do not clear your entire search history as this can cause suspicion from the abuser. Additionally, several shelters and violence prevention apps have mechanisms built-in to hide activity.
 
If your technology is being monitored but you cannot or do not want to leave your home, you can still use the tools mentioned above to increase your privacy and stay connected.

Ask your friends and family to check-in on a regular basis through online messaging, video calling, and by phone. Creating signals or codewords can be effective for monitoring the situation.

In cases where a survivor may not want to leave the home due to concerns over COVID-19 or are immuno-compromised, please contact your local shelter to seek alternatives. Additional housing is popping up across Canada with some hotels offering free or discounted rooms for survivors. Further, some shelters are requiring and providing separate rooms for survivors to complete the recommended 14-day quarantine.
   
How the general public can support survivors and services during COVID-19

Go old-school in sharing information. This could include posting domestic violence resource information in grocery stores or leaving information packages in public and accessible places, such as “free” boxes.   

To support the work of local shelters and their services during these uncertain times, Women’s Shelters Canada recommends monetary donations or checking local shelter websites for in-kind donation requests, such as fabric face masks and hand sanitizers. 

For additional guides and apps on tech safety for survivors, see the following:

Seeking Help Online provides additional safety considerations before reaching out through technology

Tech Without Violence is a platform for survivors of cyberviolence. Their online safety guide has additional resources and how-to guides to increase technology privacy and security.

Guides and information on the different ways technology can be used for violence and how to stay safe, see here.

The recently published BC Society of Transition Houses’ Guide for Canadian Women Experiencing Technology-facilitated Violence provides additional strategies while their Love is Patient Postcard provides a summary of tech-specific tips in English and French.

For child survivors, MediaSmarts has compiled a list of educational tech safety games that teach young children and teens how to stay safe online. This can be crucial in cases where tech-savvy abusers target the child survivor for information using spyware or a fake social media account.  

For general guides to incorporate tech safety into organizations, check out these valuable resources:

Service providers or persons in a support network can use this Digital Services Toolkit to provide guidance and technical support to survivors during a  public health crisis.

Employers with remote workers see this blog post. The article offers suggestions and additional resources on how to protect your employees’ safety while they work from home.

Know of a local organization or support group working for domestic violence survivors in Canada? Please leave a link in the comment section below. These trying times have come with great uncertainty, but what we can be certain of is how we can make people feel. We thank the frontline workers who are continuing to show up for survivors of domestic violence. As always, we are in this together and you are not alone.
 

May 3, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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COVID Blog #4: Response to Respect the Human Rights of Vulnerable Populations

The scale and severity of the coronavirus pandemic continue to challenge governments around the world to not only act quickly to enforce regulations, but also to deliver basic living and medical services to the most vulnerable populations - from the impoverished, to refugees displaced from their countries of origin. The World Health Organization (WHO) envisions human rights and health as ensuring access to timely, quality health care for each person in every population.

Global organizations have extended their communications reach to support countries by using technology and apps to deliver services in the most remote of regions. In Canada, PeaceGeeks is contributing by updating its Arrival Advisor mobile app with links to timely updates on COVID-19 resources. The free Arrival Advisor app helps refugees and immigrants in British Columbia find information and essential services to assist in their settlement journey.

The biggest challenge facing the spread of the virus is the sheer number of countries and territories affected, which currently stands at 210. Every country is grappling with how to deliver timely and effective health care solutions to the most vulnerable populations including displaced people and refugees. In 2019, the world witnessed a troubling trend in the global refugee crisis as the number of displaced people grew to be more than 70 million with over 25 million refugees globally.

One lifeline used by refugees on their mobile platforms during times of crisis is WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging app worldwide. WhatsApp is helping the vulnerable connect with those that matter most like their health care professionals and family using chat groups and group video calls.

WHO has responded quickly to the global need with OpenWHO, a new interactive, web-based, platform offering online courses to improve the response to health emergencies. OpenWHO enables the organization and its key partners to transfer life-saving knowledge to large numbers of frontline responders. OpenWHO’s learning resources for COVID-19 have been partially or fully translated into 18 national languages and has more than 180,000 users accessing its resources.

Tracing the origin of COVID-19 can play a pivotal part in containing the spread. Assistance from technology companies, including Apple and Google will support public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world with apps in the coming months. The apps will use Bluetooth technology to deliver opt-in contact tracing technology with user privacy and security as key components. As early as May, the companies are already beginning to work on a robust platform that will enable interaction between government health authorities and different apps that are already in use for tracing COVID-19.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are collaborating with experts to develop Private Automatic Contact Tracing (PACT), which is designed to help public health officials track and trace COVID-19 while preserving privacy. Using Bluetooth technology, the system allows people that test positive for COVID-19 to upload a list of chirps, which are short-range data strings that “link” to other data emitting devices at a close range. Other people can then scan the database to see if any of the chirps match the ones picked up by their phones, and this enables users to be notified that they may have been exposed to the virus.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is delivering essential laboratory equipment to test for the virus, medical supplies to treat people, and installing handwashing stations in refugee camps and settlements. In addition, the UN Refugee Agency is appealing to the private sector to donate up to $255 million to focus on priority countries that require essential needs during the pandemic. In response, Sony Corporation has established the Sony Global Relief Fund for COVID-19, where a US$3 million contribution will be made to help protect refugees and their host communities.

Refugee children are among the most vulnerable during any crisis. A new online and audio storybook “My Hero is You, How kids can fight COVID-19!” has been produced by a collaboration of more than 50 organizations working in the humanitarian sector, including WHO, the UN Children’s Fund, the UNHCR, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Save the Children. The resource aims to help children protect themselves, and their families from coronavirus and is a resource on how to manage emotions during this rapidly evolving time.

And here at home in Canada, Ottawa-based Ruckify is partnering with United Way to bring connectivity to vulnerable and socially isolated people. Ruckify’s platform is the world's largest peer-to-peer rental marketplace and offers the opportunity for individuals and companies to rent out their items within local communities. Ruckify is calling on people to donate or rent out unused items like smartphones, tablets, or any computers so they can put them in the hands of those in need during the pandemic.

If you know of other valuable services available to refugees, displaced people, or the vulnerable in your local community please leave a comment with the link and remember #wereinthistogether.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-rights-and-health
[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-jordan-women/factory-...

Apr 20, 2020
Category: Thematic Issues
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