Misgana Gobeze, Vita’s Communications and Publications Officer, tells us how our Ethiopian team are coping in lockdown and our response on the ground to the threat of coronavirus. From tips for productivity to organising hygiene and sanitation demonstrations with local government, Vita Ethiopia are busier than ever…

Around a third of the world’s population is on lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. On March 19th 2020 the Vita management team decided, in the interest of protecting both staff and those we support, that country staff would begin remote working while reviewing step-by-step the situation in the field office. 

Most of Vita’s staff in Ethiopia now find themselves working from home, and beginning to adjust and acclimatize to the technology enabling them to do so.

It is a challenging time and the challenges for each of us are different and largely depend on our personal situation. Getting used to being on our own at home instead of the lively environment of our office, having caring responsibilities for loved ones, or, rather than being lonely, working remotely while surrounded by family members, are all situations we find ourselves coming to terms with. The days can be difficult and we know no two will be the same.

To keep our staff informed of our daily response to COVID-19, our head office has been sharing daily updates with all project staff across Ethiopia since February through our social media channels. Thank goodness for Facebook!

Our weekly team calls and regular contact with our colleagues in Ireland continue.

Let’s hear from Vita country office staff member themselves about how they are managing the transition as they share their tips and schedules to make this new normal a little easier. 

Let’s start with Ato Asfaw Mekuria, Country Director: 

“I always plan my work before I start the day. I have a task list or target sheet in front of me. The biggest challenge is the internet connection when video calling with head quarters, our management team and field office staff however, daily routines, weekly virtual meetings, online conversations and strategic decisions are being carried out properly within calendar days.” 

Here is Ato Solomon Kebede, Deputy Country Director: 

“I set a schedule and stick to it. I get up in the morning and complete my normal morning routine. I also set myself a start time and finish time. Internet connectivity is a major issue, especially when I work on a remote server. With all this, I have learned to use the best technology available for work purposes like Google Hangouts for a team video call and Slack or similar tools for messaging. Project management tools like Asana help me to achieve tasks.” 

Ato Akalu Gebreyes, Administration and Finance Director says,

“Working under lockdown seems difficult for employees living in a country with poor connection and almost non-functional online bank services. There is no choice but to cope with this reality to protect our lives as well as that of our family members and colleagues. Initially it was difficult but once setting up a schedule that makes life easy, I found a really productive way of working from home, which at least minimizes the travel time from/to our office.” 

Here is Ato Mesfin Kebede, Consortium Coordinator: 

“Because of COVID-19, I am remaining on the fence in regards to the situation. I had thought that things would be improved by now but am uncertain again. However, it has helped me to explore technologies to stay connected with coworkers, friends and families – WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype, Telegram, GoToMeeting, and lots more. In addition, I also realized the values of teachers and schools in sharing our responsibilities in managing our children. I can say that I am productive in accomplishing lots of work during lockdown (sometimes visiting office as it is deemed necessary): virtual meetings, technical back-stopping to the field team, plans, reports, proposals (including COVID-19 response), etc. Personally, I developed a Facebook group page to share or post any relevant information about COVID-19 using whatever languages free from any religious or political perspectives and, the main objective, to protect all mankind from the deadly Coronavirus.” 

Vita field office operations during COVID-19

Arba Minch: Prevention Mechanisms 

The COVID-19 crisis is putting pressure on employers and workers, whether they had to implement new procedures and practices in a very short time or suspend their work.  In delivering our programmes, social distancing has affected the efficiency of our normal project activities. Local government has almost fully engaged on COVID-19 protection programmes. The zonal chief administrator is leading a COVID-19 task force. Under the main task force, there are about seven sub-task forces led by zonal department heads; Vita is a member of the zonal hygiene and sanitation sub-task force.

The task force is headed by the zonal water, mines and energy department head.  The role of the task force is to facilitate, control and raise mass awareness of the hygiene and sanitation issue with regard to COVID-19. 

Based on this, the team visit institutions with regard to sanitation, hygiene and washing facilities for staff and, while they receive guests, raise mass awareness using speakers on a vehicle and promoting the use of hand washing. They also assess non-operational water schemes and facilitate their maintenance. In addition, they collect donated sanitary items like soap, sanitizer, glove and mask from local donors and distribute to local Woredas and kebeles.  

South Omo 

To protect project staff from the pandemic at South Omo and West Omo Zone, the field office, in prior communication with country office senior officials, took the necessary protective measures. Bordering with Kenya and South Sudan, these locations are high risk, increased by local limited access to information about COVID-19 and the remoteness of the areas. With this in mind, the field coordination office have taken appropriate health measures such as:  

  1. Logistic supply: We provided the necessary hygienic materials like sanitizers, alcohol solution, sanitary soap, and face masks for all field project staff on the technical advice of and with support from both the country office, the District Health Department and health centers, and the field coordination office. 
  2. Awareness creation: The field office has also played a crucial role in creating awareness about COVID-19 for project beneficiary households in this region to keep them safe. 
  3. Revise work plan: Due to the outbreak of the pandemic the field office has revised the work plan and identified areas that can be scaled down or postponed and those deliverables that can still be implemented during the national lockdown. 

Amhara Region 

We are trying to work under the COVID-19 impact to continue delivering our projects in Amhara. Our regular follow up with farmers to ensure their continued use of agronomic practices plays a pivotal role in our projects. We regularly oversee their activities like suitability of land, chemical usage, seed, air, and water. As it is known, the project’s main focus is to show these farming communities such practices with demonstrations. 

Unfortunately, the occurrence of COVID-19 has impeded our delivery of these demonstrations. For the sake of prevention, public gatherings are totally forbidden in Ethiopia at this time. To cope with these necessary restrictions, we are visiting each farmer at home to give them the support they need. This poses its own problems and challenges as this process requires more time and resources. 

However, we remain undeterred and continue to give our partners the time, resources, and support they require to continue thriving, despite these difficult circumstances.

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