A pact for life

In AbiMar Foods, the COVID-19 pandemic drove the creation of a language of care that speaks to everyone equally.

AbiMar Foods’s biscuit production plant in Abeline, Texas, United States, is the space where many immigrants and refugees have felt once again a sense of community, reconnected with life and with the sense of service. Some of them do not speak English and, even though the Company provides tools to become familiarized with the language, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was urgent to share information in their native languages to guarantee their care and protect their health.
The communication challenge was addressed with a pact for life devised by all of them. This was materialized through a program focused on supporting them by using their own languages: Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Luganda, Arabic, French, Spanish and English. “They all signed the pact. The intention was to establish the biosecurity protocols, making sure they had all the necessary information to take care of themselves, their colleagues at work and their families at home. Additionally, through the pact, we communicated the measures taken by the city; for instance, when the overall lockdown was ordered,” explains Steve Brown, Operations and Production General Manager.
The care they receive from AbiMar Foods also reaches their families: “I learn something here and I teach my children what they have to do, and I believe that if we do so, we won’t get ill,” says Bibiche Ntambwe, Congolese employee. The company also relied on the support from interpreters who visited its employees or got in contact with them on the phone to explain the protection measures and encourage them to stay at home.
But not only the employees have learned new things, AbiMar Foods and the Abilene community have also done so. “Refugees are incredibly resilient, many of them have gone through really difficult times. They had often had to live in countries that have suffered pandemics or fast-spreading diseases such as Ebola. They have faced crises and experienced uncertainty in many situations. Not having enough or not having access to something makes you more resilient and that is what we have learned from them during these difficult times,” says Susana Lubana, member of the International Rescue Committee, AbiMar Foods’s allied organization in the execution of its program for providing assistance during the pandemic.
While undergoing this process, the employees have also valued the importance of taking care of each other. “This situation has made me more active and observant. I try to be safe and make everyone else safe too,” says Cost Ngabirano, Ugandan employee. The dynamics of this community of colleagues have strengthened thanks to the understanding, the trust and the for each other. When you speak to them in their own language, they feel a little bit more at home.
To address the COVID-19 pandemic, AbiMar Foods created a special committee in charge of developing strategies focused on controlling the disease. One of its first actions was to ensure tests for its 600 employees and implement a large-scale disinfection protocol. These measures, and the ones promoted by the Pact, have allowed reducing the number of positive cases and avoiding contagion peaks, thus taking care of life together.

“I have learned many things, hygiene is one of the main ones, but I also learned about being safe at all times, supporting each other as a team, even if we don’t speak the same language. About 80% of the staff uses sign language, that is, we learned to communicate and help each other by using our hands to make signs.”

Phurba Tamang, AbiMar Foods Nepali employee.

“We can teach about the bus routes but the sense of community is something that cannot be taught, it has to emerge from the community itself and it has to be based on the interaction among the community members. That’s what I’ve seen occurring in AbiMar Foods.”

Susana Lubana, member of the International Rescue Committee, AbiMar Foods’s allied organization in the execution of its program for providing assistance during the pandemic.