International Care Ministries’ efforts to save the ultra-poor from hunger during COVID-19 quarantine
Hunger is a devastating by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. With strict quarantine regulations in place since March 15, approximately 30 million Filipinos who live in poverty are struggling with hunger.
International Care Ministries (ICM), a Filipino NGO, has delivered over 14 million meals to at-risk families in the Visayas and Mindanao, reaching more than 3% of the Filipino population during the community quarantine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the poorest especially hard. For most, their hand-to-mouth income depends on daily labor, which had to stop during the quarantine. In many places hit by COVID-19, like Cebu, many people in Pastor Berthyl’s community have lost their jobs. He shared, “Some people here are so desperate that they considered taking up illegal work.”
ICM has been working with the ultra-poor since 1992. Soon after the quarantine was enforced, the staff and partner pastors began receiving reports from all over the Visayas and Mindanao with pleas for help. Suspending its regular poverty-reduction operations, ICM pivoted to effective and efficient aid distribution.
Bringing food to the hungry
For aid distribution throughout the quarantine, ICM has been working closely with national, provincial, and local governments. ICM’s CEO, David Sutherland, said “We’ve been impressed. Many agencies of the Philippine government have been acting heroically to help the poor. But in a country of more than 100 million people on 7,000+ islands, gaps are inevitable. That is where ICM comes in.” ICM partners with 10,000+ pastors across the Visayas and much of Mindanao. They help ICM identify families in the greatest need. Through these key partnerships over the last three months, ICM has distributed meals and health supplies to 3.3 million Filipinos.
“There is no other charity in the Philippines who has come close to ICM’s reach among Filipino poor communities during the quarantine,” said Sutherland. “We estimate that eight million poor people live in areas where ICM operates, so that means ICM has already distributed food to more than a third of poor Filipino families across vast areas of the country.”
More than 5,000 pastors send their requests through ICM’s Rapid Emergency and Disaster Intervention (REDI) system. ICM receives requests through text and social messaging, verifies those requests, and distributes relief packs to ultra-poor communities in remote areas of the Visayas and Mindanao.
ICM partner pastors are a vital network for ICM’s reach. Pastor Wilmino in Maguindanao was determined to get help for the hungry in his area despite a total lockdown in the province and armed conflict among rebel groups. “I asked for help from the army and we were the only group able to pass through the checkpoints to distribute food packs to 200 families,” he said.
A scalable, efficient response
ICM’s rapid and targeted response is only possible because of decades of innovation around efficient, effective, and scalable charity operations. Over the last decade, ICM’s Transform training program has graduated 1.4 million ultra-poor Filipinos with livelihood skills, health training, values formation, and savings groups. Before the virus took hold, ICM reported that its four-month Transform program improved ultra-poor household income by 146%, reduced serious illness by 29%, and decreased chronic hunger by 19%.
ICM’s regular programs may have been put on hold by the pandemic, but it is by no means slowing down its efforts to help the ultra-poor. Right now, ICM staff and partner pastors continue to distribute food packs to families. ICM also has distributed over 130 million seeds to the poorest families, allowing them to grow their own food, along with hundreds of thousands of booklets about COVID-19 in five languages to better equip the poor with knowledge on avoiding infection moving forward.
“I’m so proud of the staff, even though they are afraid themselves of being exposed to the virus,” said Samuel Templado, ICM Area Head of Negros Occidental. “But we had a great opportunity to reach people who no one else could reach, and save them from starvation— so we took it.”