As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.
We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.
This week, we’re sharing some of the great work happening at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag – an organization that takes a child-centred approach to family violence prevention. Wahbung recognizes that services geared towards women and their children—especially young children—who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence, are critical when preventing or limiting the ripple effect of the cycle of violence and intergenerational trauma on Indigenous families.
When public health officials began advising the public to social distance and stay home, many of the women and children involved with Wahbung were faced with other unsafe situations beyond the virus.
“We know that violence thrives in silence,” says Dana Riccio-Arabe, executive director at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag. “Now with [social] isolation and the inability to attend safe spaces, we’re seeing an influx of calls regarding domestic violence.”
Wahbung staff are currently fielding approximately 30 to 50 calls per day from participants needing support, with 10 or more of those calls being serious crisis calls from participants needing immediate or urgent support. When working with communities where internet connections and phone lines are often a luxury rather than a given, Riccio-Arabe notes the importance of doing regular wellbeing checks to ensure that families are safe and healthy.
“We’re driving by homes. We’re doing door drops. We’re really opening up a space where folks can connect with us in hopefully whatever way that we can and that they can,” she explains.
Wahbung Abinoonjiiag’s top priority has been to maintain a strong presence in the community to ensure that participants feel connected and stay healthy, even while not being able to attend programs. The staff team has been delivering 70 to 75 hampers per week to ensure that families have essential supplies such as food and diapers, as well as things to help with mental and spiritual health, such as positive messages and quotes, fun activities, and even traditional medicines like sage and sweet grass.
“The families receive positive messages from us… that we miss them and ‘keep smiling’ and things like that, just to send positive vibes to everybody,” says Riccio-Arabe. “The big thing right now that we’re seeing is that folks really miss that interaction. I think we all feel that.”
What Riccio-Arabe is referring to is the genuine and caring interaction between staff and participants at Wahbung, a centre that maintains an atmosphere akin to visiting a family member’s home – a comfortable and safe place that’s always there to rely on. Now with staff primarily working from home and the centre closed to the public, the team has looked to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to help provide a new way of interacting with clients.
“We created an online… I don’t know if I would call it a challenge, but just something to do each day for 30 days to keep folks interacting,” describes Riccio-Arabe. “Listen to your favourite song, turn it as loud as you can and dance,… scavenger hunts for kids, things like that.”
Riccio-Arabe says it comes as no surprise that organizations have pulled together and adapted so well during this difficult time. In the North End, it’s a common thing for non-profit agencies to communicate and collaborate in order to be most effective, and emergency response during the pandemic has been no exception.
“I’m proud of the North End,” states Riccio-Arabe. “There’s a lot of communication happening within community organizations. That always speaks to how the North End works and operates. It’s community-based organizations that are really stepping up and working in a good way.”
Wahbung Abinoonjiiag has also been working with the Family Violence Consortium of Manitoba—a collective of over 30 organizations from across the province who provide support to those experiencing family violence—to share information and learn from one another.
Regardless of the challenges at hand, Riccio-Arabe and staff remain steadfast in their dedication to the community and have received lots of positive comments and feedback from their participants. They are also very thankful for all the other organizations in the area that have stepped up during this time and are working hard to make sure families are supported.
“Everybody knows that community doesn’t stop,” states Riccio-Arabe. “We’re here for them and that’s what’s important… knowing that folks aren’t alone and that there’s always going to be somebody here if anybody needs.”