Community Works - How North Macedonia's Unemployed Are Earning a Living by Helping the Elderly and Immobile Isolating at Home

In the fight against COVID-19, is more important than ever that we leave no one behind.

Evgenija waving goodbye to the Community Works team

Eighty-year-old Evgenija Jovanovska from Kratovo lives alone. She usually spends her time chatting with her neighbors over a nice cup of coffee and walking down memory lane. With the start of the coronavirus outbreak in North Macedonia, all of this changed.

Since the country declared a state of emergency and enacted a curfew in response to the pandemic, there are no more coffee dates. Evgenija still looks forward to getting phone calls from her grandchildren, who left Kratovo for their university studies. The rest of her family has long moved out of town, but they regularly keep in touch, do their best to help her and visit her whenever they can.

“Time passes slowly when you are on your own. Now, in this situation with this coronavirus, it passes even slower. I listen to what the doctors are saying and I do not go out. I like to sit on the balcony and watch the goings-on in the street, the park… we have to endure this,” she says with a smile.

Evgenija is not alone in her physical isolation. Since North Macedonia imposed a strict curfew in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s elderly have had to adjust to staying home for all but the two hours during the day when they are allowed to go out for essential needs. Though the lockdown is designed to protect the health of the elderly above all else, it also poses a new challenge for those that live alone, have limited mobility or that simply want to minimize their exposure to the virus by staying indoors as much as possible. The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the vulnerability of elders living alone and many other groups who were already having a tough time before this crisis. That is why it is now more important than ever that we make sure to leave no one behind in the global effort to combat the outbreak. Staying true to this commitment, UNDP has adapted one of its established programmes in North Macedonia to help elders self-isolating at home.

Evgenija Jovanovska is one of 60 elderly people in Kratovo who are receiving daily assistance with their grocery shopping and other essential errands by a municipal team of eight unemployed persons. Engaged through UNDP’s Community Works programme, originally designed to provide assistance to vulnerable persons, they are one of 27 municipal teams in the country that have expanded their scope in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. They still lend assistance to other to vulnerable groups, but are now also helping over 1500 elders like Evgenija for whom COVID-19 presents the greatest danger. 

Equipped with personal protective equipment and trained on how to act safely in an outbreak situation, the Kratovo team starts their day with a meeting at the town hall. They report on yesterday’s visits, share information about potential new beneficiaries and agree on the day’s schedule before heading out for their rounds. The teams visit the homes of elderly every day. On their request, they do their shopping, pay their bills, deliver their groceries and medications. They even take the time for a short chat with every person they help – from a safe distance and while wearing masks, of course! They talk to them about their day, their health and anything they might needs, while also making sure to advise them on how to adjust their behavior in order to stay safe from the coronavirus.

One of the people engaged through this newly adapted social service is Stanimir Mladenov. Though he is registered as unemployed, for the past few years, he has been able to supplement his income thanks to his part-time engagement in the Community Works programme. He is happy working to help those in need allows him to help support his family.

“The elderly mostly need conversation, particularly now when the recommendations are to stay home. They still don’t fully understand that we have to talk from a distance, but they are slowly getting used to it. It feels good when we can help a little to overcome this unpleasant situation and help the most vulnerable group of people. I am not afraid that I might get infected. My desire to help is greater than my fear!” says Stanimir.

Though the elderly are still in a challenging situation, Evgenija is very appreciative of the help provided by Stanimir and his team. “I’m very happy whenever someone brings me a simple bottle of sparkling water, so you can imagine how great it to have someone bring me all my groceries from the market. When they come to my door, I give them my bills and my money, they pay them and that’s that! I’m satisfied, without a doubt!”

Kratovo is one of 27 municipalities in North Macedonia that partnered with UNDP’s Community Works programme on adapting their social services in support of the country’s COVID-19 response. The Programme engages almost 200 unemployed persons as service providers for more than 1500 beneficiaries. The programme originally was designed to improve the scope and reach of social services for vulnerable groups in 53 municipalities, but it also helps to improve the livelihoods of the unemployed service providers by giving them steady source of income and opportunities to learn skills that improve their employability.

Since the Community Works programme first launched in 2012, 53,250 people have benefited from direct assistance and over 30% of participating service providers have managed to find secure employment. In UNDP’s global context, the programme contributes to SDGs 1, 8 and 10 – reducing poverty by providing decent jobs, all geared towards reducing inequality by making sure that those most in need are not left behind.

The Community Works programme is funded by Government of North Macedonia, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and UNDP, and is implemented in partnership with North Macedonia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the National Employment Service Agency.

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