Alexandre Rwamanyege, a person with disability, lives in a small village in Kiramuruzi Sector of Gatsibo District in Eastern Province. A father of five, Rwamanyege, who suffers from dwarfism, has always been the breadwinner for his family; but this was until coronavirus broke out earlier this year that came with a lockdown that saw different activities shut down. Rwamanyege eked his living from repairing shoes from a makeshift stall he operated in a nearby market. The lockdown stopped his work and pushed him to survive on government handouts. Food was scarce, narrates the 51-year old sitting on a chair-stone in the backyard, straddled by three of his children who also have the same condition he suffers from. Not far from this village lives Tharcissie Gahongayire, dwelling in a three-room house with other nine family members. Before the lockdown, she used to sell tomatoes in the same village market as Rwamanyege. “When coronavirus came, everything came to a standstill,” Gahongayire, 48, narrates, adding that things did not get any better even after the lockdown measures eased in June. “We had no work and we ate off all we had.” Like Rwamanyege and Gahongayire, the coronavirus outbreak affected the lives of millions of Rwandans, especially those who lived off hand-to-mouth earnings. Various studies revealed enhanced tensions within families resulting from income stress which led to neglect, physical, and emotional abuse. In collaboration with the government, and with financial support from the European Union, Plan International Rwanda, development and humanitarian organization stepped up its efforts to assist the most affected households. Part of the organization’s emergency response plan to the pandemic was to identify and provide lifesaving interventions including financial assistance to the affected households. To date, financial interventions from Plan International Rwanda are approximately Rwf900 million, ranging from supporting risk communication and community engagement activities to providing cash assistance to the disproportionately affected people. Total direct beneficiaries for the cash assistance amount to 8,500 people of whom women make up the majority. All deserving cases fall in Ubudehe category one or two who had informal or casual breadwinners, the elderly, or people living with disabilities. Plan International Rwanda, with partner institutions such as the Health Ministry and SFH Rwanda, continue to implement the response activities including TV and radio spots that call upon the public to observe Covid-19 measures. The estimated reach for risk communication is approximately 10 million people. “The idea was to help vulnerable groups acquire the right information, and replace productive assets to get back on their feet. Thus, this was not just about money to use in the immediate aftermath,” says William Mutero, Country Director for Plan International Rwanda. “With the cash assistance, we worked with LODA (Local Administrative Entities Development Agency) for the messaging to say, ‘yes, youve got immediate needs, but you need to think long term sustainably. “If you’d sold an asset if you sold off something that you were using to make a living, replace that with an asset that generates income because this is how it can sustain you going forward’.” Different households, selected by local leaders, were sent varying amounts of mobile money. Rwamanyege received Rwf119,000. “You can see all the things I did - I renovated my house and got myself a bed. I no longer sleep on the cold cement floor. Next, I want to buy small cattle,” he says. Gahongayire got her Rwf127,000. She immediately paid the health insurance for the whole family. “I used the balance to buy tomatoes as a side business to help sustain my day to day household needs,” she says, adding that initially, they could not have food for days. SFH Rwanda is a local nongovernmental organization that implements health promotion interventions in the areas of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, HIV and malaria prevention, family planning and adolescent sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene using behavior change communication approaches and social marketing to empower vulnerable people and communities to adopt positive health behaviors and practices. SFH also supports the Ministry of Health to provide access to health care services that are closer to the communities through the construction of health posts and provide hygiene and sanitation facilities at a decentralized level. “The more people have access to the right information and health services they need, the more it drives their behavior adoption and practices, which lead to individual and households economic sustainability and wellbeing,” says Manasseh Gihana Wandera, the Executive Director, SFH-Rwanda According to Plan International, focusing the response to the most affected groups including children and women was a priority. The lockdown, Mutero says, magnified existing issues around gender and social norms that violate the rights of children and women. He states the issues that specifically affected girls and young women, including teenage pregnancy and limited access to sexual reproductive health services, are critical and often overlooked. “And I say the prioritization in households would live out those issues. So you can imagine if you are focused on day-to-day survival, the last thing someone would prioritize is, for example, menstrual hygiene management,” he observes. To respond to the challenge, Plan International Rwanda distributed about 2,500 menstrual hygiene management kits to girls within Bugesera, Gatsibo and Nyaruguru districts, and all the six refugee camps across the country where it is active. Estimates reveal that around 23,000 underage girls gave birth in 2019, with the Eastern Province recording the highest rate. Gatsibo alone registered 1,452 teen pregnancies in 2018. Age-appropriate and gender-tailored messages on Covid-19 prevention, nutrition, child protection, sexual reproductive health, and positive parenting were disseminated through various media channels. SFH Rwanda is an implementing partner under this intervention. It believes in empowering and equipping the communities with the right information for them to have informed choices around Covid-19 prevention and control, which they have been doing since March when Rwanda confirmed having the 1st case of covid19. “One of the ways to combat this pandemic is national solidarity to support the massive public health response being taken by the Government of Rwanda through the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders, it is a shared challenge that can be best combated by a combination of domestic, regional and international efforts and strategies,” says Wandera of SFH Rwanda. Plan International commits to advance children’s rights and equality for girls - a group often believed to be suppressed by poverty, violence, and discrimination. Launched in Rwanda 13 years ago, the organization has been calling on people, organizations, and government to join their cause in driving vital changes in the lives of children and women. At the break of Covid-19, it stretched activities to Rubavu, Musanze, Nyagatare, and Rusizi districts to assist those most affected. Mutero believes the expertise and financial support by NGOs are critical to the country’s response to the crisis. “We have to come to the new reality of the new ways of working,” he says. “Well beat this Covid-19 pandemic if we work together, but our message is we stand with the girls and young women during this time.” Emile Twagiramungu, 39, lives in Ntarama, Bugesera District. He was a taxi-moto operator before having an accident which halted his work before Covid-19 did. He used the assistance to start selling vegetables. Maria Yankurije, 51, lives in Ntarama, Bugesera District. She used Plan International Rwandas cash assistance to buy a goat. William Mutero, Country Director for Plan International Rwanda.