By James Porter and Maretta Silverman
The END Fund works to end the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which together affect 1.7 billion people worldwide. A group of parasitic and bacterial diseases, NTDs trap people in the cycle of poverty and amongst children, infection leads to malnutrition, cognitive impairment, stunted growth, and the inability to attend school. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the END Fund is allocating grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund to assist communities affected by the virus in Africa. The Luminos Fund’s mission is to educate the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children, but the organization has shifted during COVID-19 to provide relief, too. In this interview, Warren Lancaster, Senior Vice President of Programs at the END Fund, and Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund, discuss how the END Fund is supporting the Luminos Fund’s efforts in rural Liberia through its COVID-19 Response Fund — and what makes this collaboration unique.
How did the grant to the Luminos Fund come about? How does the grant fit in with the END Fund’s COVID-19 Response Fund?
Warren Lancaster: Since I was familiar with the Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program being embedded in communities, I thought it was an ideal platform for community-level COVID-19 mitigation interventions especially hand washing and community information.
Rural villages are the communities most affected by intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths) and schistosomiasis. Breaking the fecal-oral route is a key strategy to break the transmission of intestinal worms. However, behavior change around sanitation practices can be very challenging due to constraints in poor, rural villages (e.g. no running water or electricity). Intervening to help directly with a perceived need where hand washing is suddenly seen as a positive community good contributed to an immediate need — COVID-19 — and a longer-term one as well — ending neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
The Luminos Fund’s mission is to help vulnerable and out-of-school children with education. How does this COVID-19 Response funding align with your work?
Nikita Khosla: It’s true: at Luminos, our mission is to ensure no child is ever denied an education, whether by poverty, crisis, or discrimination. It has come as a surprise to everyone at Luminos that we would face one of our busiest moments when all our classrooms are closed due to this pandemic. We’re now providing distance learning and relief.
My colleague Abba Karnga Jr., who manages our program in Liberia, might have explained our pivot best so I’ll quote him: “We’re reaching children who never went to school before and getting them to a level where they want to keep going. That’s humanitarian. So, when an emergency arises like COVID-19, it’s important that we step up and revise. Providing relief during COVID isn’t strange. It’s what we have to do.”
We’ve been staying in close contact with colleagues and partners in the countries where we work, and even surveying teachers and students’ families on the frontline to stay abreast of the crisis. It’s been both inspiring and heartbreaking to see how communities are coping. We’re still focused on our core education mandate, but we felt we had to reach further to help during this crisis. We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the END Fund to provide essential relief to more communities.
What was the END Fund’s motivation to provide COVID Response funding in Liberia?
Warren: Liberia requires treatment for four of the five NTDs we work on, including schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. We used to be very involved in NTD programming in Liberia but that project came to an end. With hand washing having a dual benefit for NTDs and COVID-19, the funding fit in with our COVID-19 Response Fund in a country we were already familiar with.
What does this funding from the END Fund mean for the Luminos Fund’s COVID-19 response in Liberia?
Nikita: Thanks to the END Fund’s grant, Luminos is providing 37 hand washing stations, buckets, soap, and bleach to remote villages, as well as mobilizing and training community teams to carry out monthly door-to-door awareness efforts regarding hand washing. The community teams will speak to families and hand out printed health flyers that have text and visuals. These are communities without running water or electricity and many adults who cannot read, so these efforts will have a material positive impact. In fact, we’ve already begun this work. The first supplies were distributed, and a second round of supplies was distributed the second week of June. We’re receiving very positive feedback from families and our team in Liberia.
Given the END Fund and Luminos Fund’s roots with Legatum, what makes this grant unique? Why are you excited for your organizations to work together on this?
Warren: The motto of Legatum is to look for the great beyond the good. The Luminos Fund’s program is already great; this just makes it “greater!” We were excited to bring two members of the Legatum family together in a way that adds value to the missions of both organizations.
Nikita: I know I speak for the Luminos team when I say we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the END Fund, especially on something as important as COVID relief for vulnerable communities. I’ve been at Luminos over four years and, in the back of my mind, I feel I’ve been looking for ways to work with the other wonderful organizations — like the END Fund and Freedom Fund — that were initially funded by Legatum.
Legatum focuses on unlocking human potential and creating sustainable prosperity. Helping Liberian families sustain through this dire crisis so they can continue their education and livelihoods on the other side feels very aligned with Legatum’s mission — and our missions at Luminos and END. So, while the circumstances are somber, this is a pivotal moment to align our efforts.