The coronavirus pandemic created a devastating situation in Lázaro Cárdenas, the region of Mexico we serve.
Even in normal circumstances, the students we serve live in high-risk communities. They face economic poverty, unstable work environments, and difficult home lives. Their burdened daily reality is why we built the Institute in the first place—to connect students hidden by poverty, help them realize their full potential, and equip them to become local and global leaders.
In addition, the local economy in Lázaro Cárdenas is propelled by tourism and exporting—industries that completely halted in the wake of COVID-19. That meant that for months, there were no jobs, no income, and very limited access to food and supplies.
In response, Institute alums and students developed a four-part emergency response plan that allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis at hand. Led by these remarkable young people, we encouraged growth in the midst of paralysis, we pursued innovation in the midst of crisis, we built community in the midst of isolation.
We pursued initiatives in four key areas: food security, public health, student care, and economic growth. And the programs that were born out of crisis are still growing and serving the community today.
Planting a community garden and increasing local agriculture production to feed families.
Delivering medical supplies, educating others about healthy practices, and partnering with local medical facilities.
Educating, mentoring, and encouraging students as they navigate this difficult season.
Developing a paid internship program and investing in the local economy through job creation.
Our first step was ensuring that people had enough to eat. Thanks to the generosity of our community and the tireless work of students, we were able to deliver 1,000 emergency supply packs to the most vulnerable families in the communities we serve. Now, we are building longer-term food security by planting community gardens and increasing local agricultural production so that people can continue eating, even when the economy is stalled.
Through partnerships with local medical facilities, we equipped students to increase health awareness and resources in their communities. We delivered medical supplies like masks, rubbing alcohol, and student-produced PPE to clinics that we have partnered with for the last four years. Young people also created PSAs about healthy behaviors like hand washing and physical distancing.
Students are—and have always been—at the heart of Hands Offering Hope. We were able to shift our 2020 Institute online so that young people could continue to engage with our curriculum in this unusual season. In addition, we deployed 10 student leaders who each championed an additional 10 students—providing critical peer support to one another.
The long-term economic implications of the pandemic on the communities we serve will be severe. To counter this surge of unemployment, we hired 10 students who have graduated from our programs to implement initiatives through a paid internship program. In addition, we have begun exploring how to partner with and provide business to local transport and logistics companies to facilitate supply and distribution.