In the toughest times of coronavirus’ first hit, when most people’s life has changed, the operation of Hungarian Interchurch Aid has also arrived to a new chapter in its 30-year-long history. When most companies closed their doors and sent their colleagues home we continued our national and international activities because our work became even more important than it was before.

As a member of the international community of humanitarian organizations we have provided support in more than 40 countries in the previous decades. HIA has great experience in humanitarian assistance and development programmes which made us capable to continue our much needed work in the times of a pandemic as well. Together with our dedicated colleagues and engaged partners HIA managed to accomplish many international activites – but how is that possible when the world is shutting down?

Besides its headquarter in Budapest and 17 regional centres across Hungary we provide help through our international offices as well. In Erbil, Iraq HIA has a permanent office since 2016 with the aim of launching long-term development programmes. The last couple months for the representatives of the office had several challenges: because of COVID-19 in Iraq, strict regulations were set like full lockdowns. As the reason of the lockdown some ongoing projects had to stop; while a school renovation can pause for a while the community workshops and activites in camps for IDPs and refugees cannot.

It took a lot of arranging, planning, coordinating and time to receive all the documents and get the official rights to leave the office and travel in the region – which is neccessary to continue the projects. In the meantime, hospitals which play important roles in the fight against coronavirus contacted HIA and as a respond to this call our colleagues started to gather healthcare tools and hand them out. Obviously, it wasn’t easy either, since serious lockdown restrictions applied to the area, so HIA had to closely cooperate with the local government to get and to deliver the equipments to the hospitals.

Fortunately, the representatives of our office in Erbil managed to successfully finish some important projects in the first half of the year: the reconstruction of several schools and the rebuilding of water systems in different regions of the country. Although coronavirus slowed down our operation in one way but fastened it in another way: in July, we managed to come to a milestone with one of our projects. In the framework of the Hungary Helps Programme HIA managed to undersign a contract about establishing a bakery. Together with a local organization called Free Yezidis Foundation the aim with the bakery is to provide vocational studies for IDP women, to offer job opportunity for these women in long-term and to provide good quality food for locals.

Another permanent office of HIA is in Berehove, Ukraine since 1998. Besided providing humanitarian aid after disasters, the aim of our activity in the country is to deliver long-term sustainable development programmes. Our office provides wide range of development programmes for people at different age focusing on their real needs – for HIA it is extremely important to offer real break-out points to the beneficiaries.

In the first days of the coronavirus epidemic we started to support health institutions in Transcarpathia that play a role in the care provided to the affected population. We provided disinfectants, medical masks and hygiene products to health and social care institutions in Berehove and we also supported people in difficult situations and healthcare workers with food and hygiene packages. HIA also delivered the COVID-19 protective device support of the Hungarian government to the hospitals and healthcare institutions in Transcarpathia.

At the time of the epidemic, health services’ availability became limited and it was especially tough for the residents of smaller towns in Ukraine to receive proper healthcare service. As a reaction to this situation HIA and Doctor24 Health Centre launched a video consultation opportunity available to Hungarians in Transcarpathia. As part of the Telemed Medical Consultation, in a virtual consultation patients can ask doctors, experts of 14 areas.

Unfortunately beside the already difficult situation caused by the coronavirus, unexpected floodings followed the heavy rainings in Ukraine. It resulted serious damages on houses, roads and bridges, sadly, human life was taken by the floodings as well. HIA immediately signed up to help in the sudden crisis.

In May 2020, László Lehel, president-director of HIA had a visit to Ukraine and met Olekszij Petrov, Governor of Transcarpathia. They undersigned a cooperation agreement which memorandum strengthen the collaboration between the two countries and opens a new chapter in HIA’s involvement in the region. The first event of this new cooperation started when Hungary welcomed a team of doctors from Ukraine to exchange experiences with Hungarian doctors regarding COVID-19. Hungarian healthcare did a great job in the fight against coronavirus so the delegation visited several institutions in the country and collected many new knowledge to use when they return home.

Besides Ukraine and Iraq HIA provided help in several other countries as a respond to the world epidemic in the first half of 2020. Although it was a difficult time to be able to properly continue as many projects as possible, thank to our dedicated colleagues and partners it was never a question that HIA is among the first ones to show up and provide support to those in need.