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Social support groups in Turkey aim to reach all citizens in need amid COVID-19 pandemic

Social support groups in Turkey aim to reach all citizens in need amid COVID-19 pandemic

Responding to calls and going door to door, social support groups that emerged in the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic aim to reach all citizens in need, particularly senior citizens, who are forced to stay at home for fear of infection. The groups, formed by the Interior Ministry, sometimes deliver groceries or pensions to millions of people.

Formally known as “Vefa Social Support Groups,” the crews, formed by civil servants, live up to the true meaning of the word “vefa,” which can broadly be translated as “loyalty,” in a society where the elderly are shown great respect. The groups were originally formed by the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services to boost women’s employment and to help needy families. When the pandemic made its foray into Turkey, the social group evolved into a nationwide state benefit project. Governorates in 81 provinces and hundreds of districts formed their own teams composed of volunteers from all walks of life, from teachers to clerks and police officers. Volunteers who are not civil servants can also participate in the job, which involves the risk of infection to some degree.

The latest figures show Vefa groups responded to about 9.5 million calls for help, mainly from those who are 65 and above and have been subject to a partial curfew since March 21. Some 114,907 workers in the crews addressed the needs of the elderly as well as people with chronic diseases who would be at risk of infection if they go out. Some delivered food and others handed out the benefits that people cannot withdraw themselves. Vefa groups also supplied cash payouts to people in their homes as part of the “Social Protection Shield” program of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services.

Citizens can call emergency services, police and gendarme hotlines to request a Vefa group for any need. Since March, the groups have visited more than 3.1 million households. Overall, they handed out TL 2.9 billion ($408 million) in cash, including pensions, benefits for the disabled and other payments at the doorsteps of people who cannot leave their homes. They were also tasked with delivering masks and kolonya (cologne) sent out to 5.9 million people by the Turkish Presidency in the early days of the pandemic.

Crews, who work around the clock, also deliver medicine to senior citizens and patients. Apart from healthy citizens under risk, they reach out to people in quarantine at home due to the coronavirus. When they are not busy with visits, they deliver food to stray animals and birds that have difficulty finding food with most people staying at home, especially during curfews.