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The whole world has had to quickly adjust to new ways of working and socialising in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. IDS alumni work and live in many different places across the world and we have asked a few of you to tell us a little more about changes you’ve had to make to your work and lives due to Covid-19 and how you’ve been contributing to the global response.
The outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a ground-breaking new normal in my work and lifestyle. Cameroon is a country trapped in a cascading crisis overshadowed and compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. We (Nicoline is the CEO and founder of Pathways for Women's Enpowerment and Development-PaWED) have diversified our peace building activities to include the fight against COVID-19 – adding training on the production of homemade hydroalcoholic hand sanitizers, production and distribution of homemade masks, provision of buckets to fetch water and soap for the regular washing of hands. Using limited and already strained resources from prevailing socio-political, economic and social crises ( typified by Boko Haram violent extremism and Anglophone crises plaguing the country since 2014 and 2016 respectively) women are at the forefront providing lifesaving information and resources to the vulnerable helping prevent the spread of coronavirus.
How the global health crisis disproportionately affects women and intersects with disabilities, old age, refugees, internal displacement and others has been a call for concern in our advocacy work. We have been engaging at continental level and appealing for the need to mainstream gender in COVID-19 response action plans at country level. On one hand the global coronavirus outbreak has revealed our shared humanity and common vulnerability; and on the other, leadership style and quality in most of our countries have fiddled with trivialities, personal political and economic gains. In addition, COVID-19 responses are not helped by unaccommodating health and other lifesaving facilities and infrastructures.
We expected COVID-19 to calm the use of the guns by the parties in conflict. We wanted all sides to respond positively to the call by UN Secretary General António Guterres to, “stop conflict to concentrate on fighting the spread of the coronavirus”, alas, the call received varied responses. Non-state armed group (NSAG), Southern Cameroons Defence Force (SOCADEF) declared that, they will observe a 14 day cease fire (while maintaining “combat readiness”) from March 29 to April 12 “in order to permit international humanitarian preparation for the COVID-19 prevention”, because "the people of Ambazonia are ill-prepared to face a major pandemic”. Another faction, the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) which controls the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), one of the largest armed groups waging an insurgency against the Cameroonian military, rejected the declaration claiming that “to permit such unilateral action will be to provide Cameroon unhindered access to everywhere in our towns and villages”. For its part, the Cameroon government simply ignored the call and fighting targeting and killing civilians is ongoing in the restive regions overshadowed and compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 and the lockdown measures have also had devastating effects on the women’s economic empowerment projects that we were running. For example, our inability to sell 3,000 broiler chickens in our Integrated Agricultural Training Center (IATC) has cost us some $2,000(USD) and puts us at risk with the Microfinance institution to forfeit our assets used as collateral to obtain the loan. Equally the women who were beneficiaries of this project and had gained a certain degree of financial independence and security from gender-based violence, have lost their livelihood activities and will have to strive to start all over again.
Life has been surrounded by the fear of the unknown, worrying about contracting the illness or any of my family members contracting it; family finances have dwindled, and food supplies depleted by the days. Closure of schools, lockdown and working from home have meant reuniting my entire family and spending 24 hours together for the past two months. My children have been through a tough time struggling with puberty amidst armed conflicts which have seriously restrained their movement and leisure for the past three years and now worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. No schools, no friends visiting and no idea when life will return to normalcy has not been easy for the children. Electricity and connectivity are still a luxury in my country and most of these children have not been able to participate in the few online classes going on within the country. They follow news, know both global and national statistics and the need for distancing, but have no clue when this is going to end.
I have been working from home since mid-March. Since February, my employer Save the Children International, has been preparing all member and country offices to face the COVID-19 outbreak. In the beginning of March, my office in Indonesia, and all other offices received a document template to develop programme preparedness plans using the WHO pillar framework. When I was helping my colleague to work on the child protection section, I said cluelessly “I never learnt about emergency response in a pandemic situation before. I don’t know how to fill in this form.” Turns out, it is everyone’s first time dealing with a global disease outbreak. Together, we designed our COVID-19 emergency response plan and sent it to the Regional Office for approval. [Image on the left shows how Save the Children has distributed personal protective equipments for frontline health workers in South Sulawesi province, Indonesia, in coordination with the local government]
From the moment the Indonesian government announced the first COVID-19 cases in early March, I started to develop a briefing note of policy asks for the government of Indonesia to fulfil children’s rights while mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. I then spent a week just reading ALL international humanitarian guidelines I could find on how to respond to a pandemic. Because emergency response was the highest priority, I helped my team to develop some proposals for donors. I helped to design our proposals to be not just gender-sensitive, but also to address the root causes of gender inequality which can have a negative impact on the lives of girls and women, and children in general. I have written and published two op-ed articles in national media, that you can read here and here (both are in English) highlighting our calls to action.
Save the Children in Indonesia has been supporting the government’s work to #ProtectAGeneration. At the national level, we are working with the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management, to name just a few, in developing many protocols of COVID-19 mitigation to ensure children’s needs and experiences are being taken into account. Save the Children has been conducting many webinars and virtual meetings to help connect the government, the children and public at large. Field staff across the region are actively advocating and building systems at village and district/city level to fulfil children’s rights. Our pre-existing projects have been adapted to the new reality. Indonesia office has been distributing masks and personal protective equipment for frontline health workers through the Ministry of Health. Internally, I am lucky that my office cares so much about the mental health and wellbeing of staff. We have weekly virtual coffee breaks where we sing together, watch stand-up comedy performance by colleagues, learn salsa, workout together or simply watch presentations.
Outside of work, I am doing well as an introvert. I spend my leisure time exercising up to three times a day, from running, barre or Pilates, dry exercise for freediving to yin yoga. I’m also now learning about trauma healing and astrology!
I work in the organic cotton sector, which directly connects me to the agriculture sector in India. The disruptions caused by Covid-19 in this sector are significant and what it means for the textile industry is still unfolding. My role in a multi-stakeholder organization places me right in the middle of the action. As we learn more about what this pandemic means for the organic cotton farmers in India, my team at Organic Cotton Accelerator, together with our partners on ground and around the globe, are working closely towards managing the anticipated challenges for the Indian organic farmers like health risks, price volatility, changing demand, and access to vital farm inputs. This naturally brings me to a very important lesson I am relearning in these times: despite the borders and worldly restrictions, all of us live in a connected world. I am witnessing first-hand how collaboration between stakeholders is really the key to overcoming the challenges that we face today.
On a personal level, about 50 days into the lockdown in India, no two days have been the same for me. For someone like me who is always on the move and on to something, the lockdown in India was almost like a punishment in the beginning. But as days have passed, I have found myself embracing the slow, yet dynamic lifestyle. While I am conscious that my experiences and reflections of this time bear hallmarks of my privilege in more ways than I can even think of, I am also aware that these reflections are changing me as a person and reshaping my perspective. The rollercoaster of the past few weeks has led me to several revelations.
I am sharing some with a hope that they will be echoed by a reader, somewhere, or will at least stir a thought in another:
I am learning that it took a pandemic for us to become more compassionate human beings. Waking up to deaths daily, I am seeing people around me, in my own social circle, become more empathetic with the millions who die every day due to the diseases of poverty. I am also seeing people empathize with the discomfort and anguish faced by those who are put under lockdowns with a constant threat of action against them in case of non-compliance.
There is a sense of appreciation in people around me. Perhaps, until now our lives have been too fast paced for us to notice the efforts of others that keep us going; but with the lockdown, I see immense gratitude for house-helps, police, healthcare and other frontline workers- the list is long!
There is a sense of a more open and giving world. I see companies, businesses and individuals opening their doors to help people learn, grow, and support each other on different social platforms. From free online courses on almost everything you can think of, to online therapy sessions, live fitness classes, online study groups and virtual museum tours!
The lockdown has made us conscious of buying ‘things’ and using resources. I would not say that the transition from buying things when we need to when we want has been easy or is even accomplished fully; but I do notice a change in and around myself.
I am witnessing a new-found respect for a healthcare system and I am hoping that we are able to sustain our demand of an increased government spending to equip ourselves not just for the next pandemic, but also to deal with the everyday manageable diseases that kill millions of people in India.
What has been bothering me though, is the practically seamless line between work and personal life. In a country like India, where remote working culture is still not ‘normal’, it is a perennial struggle for the working class to balance work life from home, especially in the Covid-19 backdrop and the lockdown.
These reflections, coupled with my constant connectedness with the precarious situation of the farming communities in my country, because of my work, is helping me to stay grounded, mindful and closer to reality.
As an individual, the pandemic has affected me socially, economically and planning wise. Socially because this has separated me with family and friends especially. Because of restrictions in movements and the nature of my career, the pandemic found most of us not in the same location with family and hence most of the connection now has been mainly through technology connection. Economically too again because working in research and development involves being connected to people and organizations locally and internationally. Planning wise, I have been forced to cancel planned events, which has meant many disappointments.
As an organization, Kiota Initiative (see previous alumni blog about Kiota) has experienced a stall in some of our programs. For example, the unexpected closing of schools has hugely impacted our mentorship programs Kizazi and Linda Dada as we can no longer make visits to schools and mentor pupils. The Tap Talent program, which aims at supporting and nurturing art and talents in youth and sensitizing the community through the use of murals have also had to be put on hold due to the fact that public gatherings of more than 15 people are not allowed. It’s difficult to make visits to sites where we do our farming activities for Inuka Sasa and Zinduka programs. We must have online meetings, instead of our usual face to face, which have been quite a hustle as some colleagues are in rural areas with unstable internet connections.
One of the ways that Kiota has responded since April 2020 has been through messaging targeting children and youths to educate them on Coronavirus. This we have done through the creative art unit’s cartoon books (download example) and murals sending to children and youths via their parents and guardians at home. We are checking to see if they understand what is being broadcasted by the government and the WHO regarding facts on Covid19. The children paint on the cartoon books and write brief notes on what they have done. These are sent back to us and we use them to develop the next challenge. This we do on a weekly basis to raise awareness on the progress of the fight against the pandemic. I must confess, this has brought enlightenment to some of our clients in remote areas to learn how to live and respond to Covid19. [Photo reproduced with thanks to Lily Achieng , Jackie Kangai and Wahome Kariuki, Kiota Staff]
We are working hard to adjust our activities and mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Stabilizing ourselves and strategizing on how we will return to work and be effective while protecting ourselves and those around us.
As the world battles the Corona virus, it was clear what governments around the world needed to do to pause the global pandemic: Testing, Testing, Testing; and Lockdowns.
The costs of testing were always known. Costs of lockdowns have become apparent in the last several weeks. In developing countries like Kenya, a bulk of the workforce is engaged in daily work and earns day-to-day. Unlike richer countries in Europe and North America, they cannot afford to shut down economic activity as a way of combating the Corona pandemic. Long shutdowns will make much of the population more vulnerable, since they will impede people's ability to access income, nutrition, immunity, and health services. Besides, with its large fiscal deficit, the amount of money Kenya can borrow from international markets is limited. And there isn't a lot of international aid going around at the moment.
Easing the lockdown is therefore a key priority, and responsible governments around the world are considering their options very carefully. On one hand, removing movement restrictions in haste and allowing businesses to resume in full can be risky. On the other hand, lockdowns might be too expensive to sustain. For instance, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that just one full month of lockdown across Africa would cost $65 billion, or about 2.5% of the continent’s annual GDP. As this starts to happen, we must plan for the long-term.
So what are Kenya's options? Or India's/Bangladesh's/Morocco's/Vietnam's/ other developing countries' for that matter. Suvojit Chattopadhyay, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, weighs in, in this interview. According to him, developing economies will suffer a significant blow as a result of this crisis. The focus should be on minimising the immediate economic distress through enhanced social protection measures, and on making a long-term economic recovery plan. This is also an opportunity to bring in long-term public sector reforms, and identify and support businesses of the future.
Thank you to all the alumni who contributed to this article (and our previous article). We hope all our alumni stay safe and well during these unusual times. If you would like to share your experiences with the community please contact the alumni office.