Amir and Elvira in North Macedonia
Poverty – October 14 2020

Hungry and forgotten in the time of COVID-19

Four-year-old Elvira and eight-year-old Amir eat only once per day. That is all their parents can afford.

Elvira and Amir's family became part of the SOS Children's Villages Macedonia family strengthening program in 2017. Over the next two years, SOS workers and the children's parents worked hard to improve the family's living conditions and well-being.

The highlight of their progress came in late 2019 when the family was joined by a baby brother and their father, Zamir, found a job as a janitor. Their future was looking bright and hopeful.

When everything came crashing down

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Schools and kindergartens closed, followed shortly by businesses. Zamir was among the first of nearly 12,000 people in North Macedonia to lose his job in the first three months of the pandemic. The family fell into a deep crisis that almost claimed the life of their youngest child.

COVID-19 has further marginalized vulnerable families. Faced with a new existential problems, these families are on the brink of survival. The stress, poverty and discrimination  they experience increases the risk of losing their parenting roles and adequate child care.

Life or death

Sanela, the children's mother, stressed over their rapidly deteriorating living situation and ended up losing her ability to make breast milk. Desperate, she fed her three-month-old baby pasteurized vitaminized milk, which made him ill. "It was a life or death situation," Katerina Arsovska, psychologist of SOS Children's Villages, remembers. "We managed to secure 20 cans of baby formula that same day. The doctor said we saved the baby's life."

Unfortunately the baby wasn't the only hungry child. The pandemic decreased the availability of state social services. Sanela and Zamir couldn't reapply for welfare after Zamir lost his job, which meant there was no food on the table.

For many vulnerable families, the help from SOS Children's Villages is the only source of food. Sanela stretches the contents of their food package to last for a month. "We eat in the late afternoon," says Sanela. "It's our only meal of the day. We can't afford to eat more often. I hear Elvira's tummy grumble, but she tells me she's not hungry."

Education for all

Education is not a top priority when basic needs are not met. Amir stopped going to school the moment schools closed for physical attendance. The family has no computer or smart device, which leaves the boy completely out of the educational system. It is estimated that about 40,000 children in North Macedonia are in similar situations.

With the help of SOS Children's Villages, Amir was enrolled in the second grade this autumn. "Amir recently returned to school after almost dropping out in March," says Tanja Gjurovska, psychologist at SOS Children's Villages. "We also support him with homework and school stationary. It's important that Amir and other vulnerable children get an education. Education gives them a chance for a better future. Education will break the poverty cycle, and that means no more hungry children."

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