How some of our teams are coping worldwide with COVID-19
Here in Finland we know the impact of COVID-19, with most people working from home, economic difficulties and layoffs, and some illness and death (though luckily, quite limited). But what is happening in some of our projects around the world, in countries with much weaker economies and health systems? Here we describe how FCG staff and consultants are coping in projects in Tanzania, Nepal and Ukraine.
FCG is implementing the Finnish funded FORVAC – the Forestry and Value Chains Development Programme – in Tanzania. We have a team of two Finnish experts and seven Tanzanian experts, working closely with local government authorities and communities to better manage their natural resources. All the team are still working in their duty stations at this stage.
Luckily, to date COVID-19 has spread slowly in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 13 April, there were 49 cases diagnosed and three deaths in Tanzania. Still, the virus is spreading, and there could be many more cases undiagnosed, as the testing has been limited.
The FORVAC team report that they don't notice any sick persons or many changes in life in general due to the virus in Dodoma or Morogoro, and in the regions Tanga, Lindi and Ruvuma where the main operations are (and there have been no cases diagnosed there, as yet). However, there are hand sanitizers and hand washing facilities appearing almost everywhere now, including in small canteens along roadsides, for instance in the photo to the right. An important element is that most people have stayed put, rather than streaming out of towns to the countryside, as in many other countries.
Unfortunately, Tanzanians have not been very consistent in their behaviour changes. For instance, the concept of physical distancing is not yet well understood - people still travel in very full buses, and many gatherings have not yet been banned. Luckily, our Finnish team members say that there doesn’t appear to be any resentment towards foreigners.
The project staff have prepared guidelines for staff, partners and communities on how to minimise infection, including very good photos (important for people with poor literacy skills). Some large workshops that had been planned during this period have now had to be cancelled. However, in general the work of FORVAC continues. In fact, the team is applying a “gap filling” approach: although some activities are postponed or seriously affected by COVID-19 restrictions, they can focus on activities that can be implemented as normal. This may mean that some could take place earlier than expected.
FCG is implementing the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project in Nepal, funded by the governments of Finland and Nepal, the EU and the local beneficiaries. We have a large team working in very remote areas on water supply, sanitation and hygiene (very critical in the current emergency), agricultural production, renewable energy and more.
Nepal has been in lockdown since 24 March, and the government has informed the lockdown will continue until 27 April (mainly due to the extension in India, next door). Some staff have gone to their homes (international staff have left Nepal, some national staff have gone home to other parts of the country), some are working at their duty stations, but mainly from their rooms.
Nepal has been quite successful so far in slowing progress of the virus, but naturally the economy has suffered badly, and there are many risks ahead. To date there have been 16 cases identified and no deaths, but as in many countries, the testing coverage has been poor. Many migrant workers are returning, or trying to return home from other countries (particularly India, and the Gulf States), and there is a risk of them bringing COVID19 with them.
As with most of us worldwide, some staff felt anxious at first – particularly as they were stuck in remote communities, far from their families, with poor health care. However, now they are becoming accustomed to the crisis (just as those of us in Finland have gone through a process of initial anxiety and then becoming used to the strange situation). We have maintained close communication through phone, email and social media. The staff have done a great job in maintaining good spirits.
The rural municipalities have gradually started to meet again and we now have activities running in the majority of the municipalities where we work. This has helped our staff feel that they are useful.
And indeed, we can play an important role. Before the lockdown, our staff helped to establish Hygiene Posts and printed banners. Now, we have been helping to establish handwashing points, with soap, water and instructions; and spreading information on the important ways to reduce infection. We are also supporting farmers to keep producing vegetables for sale in the local markets; and continuing with construction (in small groups) of water schemes. The project is distributing soap, masks and water barrels wherever needed for workers. Any meetings are held outside and with good spacing. We can really be proud of the work of the team in the face of adversity.
In Nepal we are also implementing the GIZ funded project with local government – the ‘Nepal Capacity Development Support to Governance’. Luckily, our relatively small team of one FCG Finland staffer and three Nepalese experts are able to work from their homes, developing the materials and approach. Consequently while it will be somewhat delayed, the work has not been dramatically impacted.
In Ukraine, FCG in association with the University of Helsinki is implementing the program of Finland's Support to the Ukrainian School Reform - “Learning Together” (funded by Finland, Ukraine and the EU), which is supporting the Ukrainian school reform together with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.
The pandemic was confirmed to have spread to Ukraine on 3 March 2020, when the first case was diagnosed in Western Ukraine, the Chernivtsi region. Ukraine is currently recording similar rates of COVID-19 infection to Finland. As of 14 April, in total 3,372 coronavirus cases were reported in Ukraine, and 93 deaths.
Since 12 March, Ukraine has been quarantined with several restrictions. As of 20 March, an emergency situation was declared in the city of Kyiv and several other regions. The airports, schools and universities and several other institutions and firms are closed, and public gatherings are banned. Public transportation between the cities and within the city of Kyiv is heavily restricted. In general, the schools and universities continue to operate as normally as possible with support of online teaching and distance learning solutions. In addition, many TV-channels have started “school-TV” programmes to deliver subject teaching for pupils of upper secondary grades.
Our project team in Kyiv, international team members in Finland, as well as partners and training participants in Ukraine, are now mainly working home-based. A number of development and planning processes continue through online communication and meetings. Face-to-face meetings and training sessions are not possible at the moment, and all the international experts have returned to their countries of residence for the time being. New international missions in Ukraine cannot be scheduled until the international and domestic travel bans are removed. Where possible, group activities and events are revised and transformed into a set of online meetings or webinars. Where not possible, the activities and events are postponed. Our project team focuses on introducing tools and methods of online participation and facilitation.
ICT skills are among the key competences of the pedagogical concept of the New Ukrainian School reform. We expect that in Ukraine and globally, in parallel with this critical time, many people are developing an enhanced awareness of the potential of e-learning for equal access to quality education for all.