Phil Green has led the charge for World Without Orphans’ response to the COVID-19 crisis Photo credit: Home for Good

Phil Green has led the charge for World Without Orphans’ response to the COVID-19 crisis
Photo credit: Home for Good

The task of disseminating COVID-19 Parenting Tips to the broader international community required the assistance of a strong, community-based network. World Without Orphans (WWO), a global collaborative of faith-based organizations and faith community networks took a leading role in that effort.

In March 2020. as the virus was escalating around the world, Phil Green, one of WWO’s leaders, was enroute from the UK to the United States to discuss the group’s strategy for taking on the pandemic. He arrived in Atlanta just as the travel ban took hold. Getting a flight back home was a little challenging, but Phil’s time in the U.S. was well spent. There, he was tapped to serve as the organization’s COVID-19 Crisis Response and Recovery Coordinator and asked to spearhead the effort to translate and disseminate the COVID-19 Parenting Tips throughout WWO’s global network. In our interview, Phil candidly discussed the challenges inherent in accomplishing that task as well as the remarkable impact the program has had to date.

Q:  How did you begin the work of getting the Parenting Tips out and how did people respond?

A:  If I’m honest, my first response was…are you serious? There’s a global pandemic and hundreds of thousands of orphans around the world are being sent home – to wherever home is – and I’m going to be spending my time coordinating the translation of Parenting Tips?!  It really didn’t feel like a top priority.

But what happened over the next days and weeks was kind of just phenomenal in that people just grasped these Parenting Tips.  It turned out that the world really did want parenting tips.  We found that as countries went into lockdown, there was a real need and parents were really crying out for support.  We knew from the success of the INSPIRE program that you can reduce violence against children by improving parenting skills but getting all these big agencies – USAID, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, , UNICEF,  the World Health Organization,, and a whole range of others to collaborate and sign off on these Parenting Tips in a short amount of time—that was the biggest miracle of all.

Then the challenge was that they developed a really good resource but weren’t quite sure how to distribute it.  At the same time, we, as this global faith-based network, were looking for good resources to get to people on the ground.  So it was a perfect opportunity for us to join forces and pool our resources to get the Parenting Tips to as many groups as possible in as many forms as possible.

Q:  How did you go about getting it translated?

A:  We went to our WWO network that weekend asking them to get involved in translating it.  It really captured the feeling of what was going on.  The world was in crisis and people wanted to do something to help, so they were really quick to engage in translating the Parenting Tips.  As they translated them they distributed them in whatever way they could.

The Parenting Tips have been translated into 114 languages to date.

Originally, it was just a set of six tip sheets put on a website and made open source.  By the end of March, the Parenting Tips were available in 31 languages, by the beginning of May, more than 80 languages.  They’re now available in 114 languages, with more in process.

Q:  Can you describe some of the methods used to disseminate the Parenting Tips and the impact of that effort?

A:  Within days we were hearing examples of our partners using the Parenting Tips in their work with parents and caregivers.

In Ukraine, the Parenting Tips were being distributed along with emergency food-parcels.

In Zambia, we worked with an organization called Forgotten Voices – they worked with 23 partner churches and reached 5,750 households with Parenting Tips and an additional 3 million radio listeners.

In Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan Without Orphans reached over 2 million viewers by turning the Parenting Tips into animated video clips that were shown on national television.

In Paraguay, Paraguay Protects Families organization worked with the Ministry of Health to promote the Parenting Tips, which were subsequently viewed online by 1.1 million people – 15 percent of the population. In addition, the Parenting Tips and the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on families led to the launch of a parenting helpline.  So many of our systems have been set up that they could only talk to a professional when it was too late.  Coronavirus has forced them to innovate.

A Meeting of Forgotten Voices in Zambia during COVID-19 Photo Credit: Forgotten Voices, Zambia

A Meeting of Forgotten Voices in Zambia during COVID-19
Photo Credit: Forgotten Voices, Zambia

Parenting for Lifelong Health currently estimates that the Parenting Tips have reached 130 million people to date with approximately 20 million being linked to World Without Orphans and our partners.

Q:  Has anyone shared with you a personal story of the impact the Parenting Tips have had on them or in their community?

A:  In Malawi, a village leader who is also a parent told us, “[The Parenting Tips] not only bring relief as we parent, but also challenge parenting in general, for some of us have failed miserably to parent well.  It will leave a lasting impact, and it is amazing we have learnt this through a church in our community.  This puts us in a really good position to offer advice. Previously if a church leader started offering parenting advice in a lot of cultures, it wouldn’t have happened; whereas now it’s really sought after.”

Q:  What are some of the lessons you learned from this process?

A:  While we knew that faith-based organizations are well poised to help in times of crisis like these, we, and other actors were surprised at just how effective they were at getting things done sort of instantly.  They didn’t have to raise funds or sign partnership agreements.  They already had the infrastructure in place and had direct access to families, even in the context of lockdown.  We also found that faith leaders are often among the most trusted people in the community – so when they recommended the Parenting Tips, parents and caregivers trusted their content.

I think perhaps my most significant take away was that the COVID-19 lockdown has given parents an opportunity to admit that they struggle, that parenting is hard, that they need help.  The Parenting Tips began to meet that need.

This has put issues like parenting on the agenda in a way that we hope we can capitalize on for at least a decade.  That could be really significant in so many ways.  We can be quite skeptical about breaking programs down into bite size chunks but I think these Parenting Tips have proven that it really was an effective way to make a difference in millions of lives.  This makes you think, what other programs like this exist that could be offered in bite size tips? How can we now turn this into a decade-long conversation and campaign to ensure that parents are better equipped and that the lives of millions of children are transformed?

Q:  Looking to the future, how do you see the world changing as a result of COVID?

We’re deeply concerned that inequalities are being exaggerated by COVID-19–more and more people will be trapped in poverty and there will be more and more vulnerable children and orphans in the years to come as a result of this – but for us as a global movement it’s fascinating to see how much can be done virtually.  So much of what we’re about is inspiring and equipping leaders to make a difference – you can do that on Zoom and that works. You can innovate virtually and face-to-face.  You can argue that we’ve done three or four times more this year than ever before at a fraction of the cost.

I’m an optimist and always very hopeful that we’ll see good come out of bad.  The system for children around the world was already totally broken.  Now we have an opportunity to rebuild that system.  And that’s kind of a once in a generation opportunity really.  Particularly when we think about countries that have basically closed down their orphanages and sent their children home.  How do we make sure that only the children who really need to go back to those facilities go back?  How can we make sure that the children are supported within the family context rather than going into institutions?  How do we make sure things improve as we do rebuild society?  The optimist within me thinks this is an amazing opportunity to rebuild things differently.

At times like this, it’s often the basics that can make the greatest differences.  Which goes back to my initial reservation of doing this in the first place – like my whole response – who on Earth would be bothered with Parenting Tips?  It was a really good thing to be bothered with.