Emmaus International

Through a series of interviews, Emmaus International would like to share its members' views on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the movement worldwide. Firstly, we asked Carina Aaltonen, Chair of Emmaus Europe, to share her thoughts. She spoke to us about the organisation of Emmaus' residential communities during the lockdown, the economic impact of this crisis on the groups and solidarity measures within the movement, particularly in Europe.


The Emmaus groups in Europe make a living mostly from collecting and selling second-hand goods, and this activity has now stopped in these countries. What economic impact will this crisis have on the Emmaus groups?

The situation is very hard for all Emmaus groups in Europe. For many groups it is a question of survival, while others have some savings that might last a few months. In some countries in Europe, the state pays a part of the employees’ salaries in the case of temporary layoffs. This measure will ease many of the group’s financial situations. In the communities where companions can't apply for this kind of state support and where activities have stopped, there is no, or very little, income for the community and the situation is very stressful.

In Emmaus we are used to solving crisis situations from time to time and I believe that we will do it this time too. It depends on how long the crisis will continue. We are more resilient than many other organisations in society. I am sure we will recover and manage, but it may take some time depending on where in Europe we are located. We are survivors and used to managing limited resources.

Are most of the Emmaus groups in Europe also residential communities? How are these organised during this lockdown period?

About half of the member groups in Europe are residential communities. In some groups the companions are using this lockdown period to make masks, protection gowns or to deliver street food to homeless people. Some have started to paint, renovate and clean up their premises. We can also see solidarity between the groups and communities helping each other with all kinds of issues, from financial to practical. In a way, this crisis brings us closer together and hopefully we can learn some new ways of working in the post-coronavirus time.

Most of the people are well, there only a few cases of covid-19 in the communities. One big problem is related to worries concerning money and the survival of the community. The companions get bored of staying inside the community. We can see an increasing risk of addiction and mental health issues.

Several solidarity initiatives are currently being developed at national level, mostly in European countries where this is possible. How can we ensure that international solidarity measures are developed within the Emmaus movement and what can Emmaus Europe do in this area?

Solidarity is the backbone of the Emmaus movement and during and after this global crisis we will need solidarity more than ever, on national, regional and international levels. For most of the groups in Europe this lockdown came as a shock from one day to another. We are still, in the middle of April, working hard to secure the activities and finances of the European groups and we are not yet able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the national organisations have already started to fundraise for the groups in their countries, as it is very important for the future of our international solidarity. For those groups in countries without a national structure and for the groups in the other regions, we need to launch an appeal for solidarity. Emmaus Europe will take an active role in this work, together with Emmaus International and we are keeping in touch with the groups in the regions to be able to follow the demands and develop our solidarity actions.