COVID-19 Stories of Change: Punto de Encuentro, Argentina

Aug 06, 2020

COVID-19 Stories of Change: Punto de Encuentro, Argentina

These are testing times for the mental health projects we are working with. Each has had to think quickly, adapt & overcome challenges due to COVID-19. Each has had a unique journey, which we're going to share them through our COVID-19 Stories of Change series.

In the city of Rosario, Argentina, Punto de Encuentro supports the mental health and wellbeing of women at risk of domestic violence or domestic violence survivors by helping them reach financial independence through the development of skills, for example hairdressing. Read their journey of transition and how they have adapted their services to continue supporting their clients in these testing times.

What were the greatest challenges?

With the arrival of COVID-19, the activities of Punto de Encuentro had to come to a halt, in turn pausing the journey of economic independence of the women they work with. Determined to keep their work going, the team moved online – however, this felt like a challenge.

The essence of Punto de Encuentro rests on the warmth of physical interactions amongst the group: a hug, a confidential conversation, the sharing of ‘mate’ while at the training centre. Further, the team had been expecting the renewal of a government grant – the uncertainty brought by the pandemic caused that funding to be frozen indefinitely, leaving them in a precarious and uncertain situation. These organisational challenges coupled with the increase in vulnerability to domestic violence elicited by the conditions of lockdown, has meant that the work of Punto de Encuentro has become more difficult, but more important, than ever.

How have they adapted?

Punto de Encuentro has courageously adapted to the circumstances. As a team of many ages and therefore of different levels of risk to COVID-19, they decided to divide their tasks accordingly. The older colleagues have been focusing on maintaining their linkages with government actors – communications with these partners have also been taken online. Once the government announced that domestic violence protection activities were an essential service, the younger members of the team returned to the field to distribute health & leisure kits to the women they work with. These kits included games to play with their children at home, as well as health items such as hand gel (to protect against COVID-19) and insect repellent (to protect against dengue, a continuing health threat for the community).

Now that the centre has been able to re-open, the team has creatively set up a rotating schedule by which the women take turns to go into the centre and continue their hairdresser training in smaller groups, while adhering to physical distancing measures. The teacher gives the lesson virtually, via a set of pre-recorded videos and live connection on the day. Indeed, the use of technology, particularly WhatsApp, has been essential to Punto de Encuentro during this time. Via this platform, the team and service users have been able to continue sharing their experiences and supporting each other.

What were the enablers?

Despite their internal activities being put on pause for a few months, Punto de Encuentro’s strong network of local partners has allowed them to remain a strong voice at the table within their community. Further, the unity and cohesiveness of the individuals that make up Punto de Encuentro has been essential to enabling the organisation to adapt during this time. The team describes feeling that they are reaping the rewards of many years building trust between the team and the women they work with.

Being forced to come together and decide what they were going to be able to prioritise during this time, has only brought them closer as a team. Importantly, the worldwide increase in vulnerability to domestic violence during this time, has reinforced more than ever the importance of Punto de Encuentro’s work in the community. In essence, Punto de Encuentro hopes to come out of this global pandemic stronger than ever.