Atlanta, GA: Facing up to the biggest challenge. Captain Stivina Sinana, Projects Officer in The Salvation Army’s Tanzania Territory, shared with Jo Clark (Program Resources, International Headquarters) how life in the east African nation has changed because of COVID-19, and what The Salvation Army has been able to do to help the most vulnerable members of society:
Since 26 March, when our territorial headquarters (THQ) office was closed, I have been working from home. Being constantly able to see things that need doing around the house, with interesting smells coming from the kitchen and with my three children (a 13-year-old and eight-year-old twins) around, concentration is not always easy! Some online schooling helps a little (although not for others who don’t have the technology or money to access the Internet).
I am fortunate to have an Internet connection at home that enables me to continue with some aspects of my usual work, such as administrative tasks and preparing project proposals and reports. However, I do miss the ease of having office mates on hand just to talk through more difficult things; having to make or plan a specific call is just not the same.
Other parts of my role have stopped for the time being. Movement around the country is allowed for ‘essential purposes’ only and so visits to field project sites to meet with project personnel and beneficiary groups, or to hold community conversations and training, are not possible right now. Many regular project activities have stopped temporarily and future plans have been delayed. This I have found quite frustrating. I had my plans and targets and now many of these seem to have vanished.
The week after Easter we were able at least to take action in response to COVID-19 in the communities closest to where we live. These are places we already have strong links with through a TVET (technical and vocational education and training) project we have offered to more than 300 young people. We know and have been working with local people and local government leaders there and already have established relationships of trust with them.
We used a public address system and printed banners, posters, flyers and bookmarks to raise awareness and give clear information on COVID-19 within the communities. Many people had only heard of hand sanitizers but had not used them before. So as we distributed sanitizer we also taught people how to use it effectively.
We established hand-washing stations, with soap and water, at various key bus stops and outside the police station. This campaign was well timed, since it was just after this that the number of COVID-19 cases within Tanzania started to rise and people started to become more reluctant to go out, apart from for essential trips such as to get food.
Food shopping habits have also changed in recent weeks. It is not so easy to get food. I, like many others, now only go to the local market once per week. Even on these trips, I don’t roam around – I go directly for what I need and then rush back home.
In this respect I am fortunate since I have money to buy food. However, there are many people who previously relied on casual labor – lots of whom were already struggling to recover from the heavy rainfall and flooding we experienced last September – who cannot now get work. Others in the private sector have completely lost their businesses and livelihoods. For them there is no safety net.
The more privileged are able to close themselves away and sit out this crisis, but many people are not able to eat more than once per day, if at all. These people are having to go out each day to search for work, even where there is none, and face the constant fear of exposure to the virus alongside their anxiety of how to pay their rent and electricity bills. I am sure that there will be many in need of psychological counselling when we do finally come out of the current crisis.
My husband, who is the assistant training principal at The Salvation Army’s officer training college, has been able to maintain a slightly adjusted, but relatively usual routine, which has helped us as a family to maintain at least a small sense of normality. Since most of the cadets come from far-away communities it was not considered possible for them to travel home. They and the staff all live together on the same compound and are relatively few in number. Contact hours with teachers have been reduced but some teaching has still been possible.
This pandemic is the biggest challenge I have faced in my almost 40 years of life. News of the COVID-19 virus was shocking for me – I was disturbed and truly feared for my kids, my husband and myself. At first all we heard was the rumor that the virus spread randomly through the air and would kill everyone!
However, after learning from the World Health Organization more about how the virus actually spreads and the precautions, such as handwashing, which we can take to protect ourselves, my fear has gradually dissipated. I therefore see great hope in what we were able to do within our local communities. We certainly received good recognition from both the police and local government for what we did to give clear advice and to reduce the fear spread by rumous and misinformation.
The future, for now, is uncertain – but there is some hope at national level that our cases might be beginning to decline and that we, as a country, could consider opening schools and colleges within the coming weeks. Until then, we continue as we are.
Report by IHQ Communications