3 Lessons of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on life in almost every country on earth. Tanzania confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 16, 2020 and the very next day, all schools were closed in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. As a result, all Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI) activities were suspended for an unknown period of time. This includes Kisa Project and Binti Shupavu classes, Partner School meetings, Parent Engagement Meetings, Kisa Year 1 Presentations, Kisa Two-Day Challenge, and Career Day.
In this blog, Managing Director for Programs, Devotha Mlay, details GLAMI’s flexible response to the fast-evolving environment and shares three key learnings from the public health crisis that are influencing the future strategic direction of the organization. GLAMI has navigated through two phases, the Safe Phase and the Ready Phase, and is now in the Resilience Phase.
Safe Phase: Safety First
Like in any other emergency, GLAMI’s first responses were based on the safety of our Scholars, staff, and the community at large. While schools and all activities were suspended, staff worked from home and continued communicating with GLAMI beneficiaries via telephone. The team, and particularly the 33 Kisa and Binti Mentors, worked hard to make sure that as many phone numbers were gathered as possible and ensured that all Scholars also had their Mentors’ numbers.
Mentors kept communicating with parents and Scholars specifically about the virus, including basic hygiene and health-related facts, and with information on how parents could support their daughters to keep studying while they were at home. GLAMI’s two social workers continued to prioritize particularly high-risk girls, both through psycho-social support and monetarily, through the Scholar Emergency Fund. GLAMI established a toll-free number that Scholars can use to reach the social workers anytime they have access to a phone, even if they do not have credit to call.
A month after implementing this response, GLAMI evaluated its effectiveness and came up with more targeted ways to respond to the situation and support the girls. Scholars’ academic needs were a clear area for intervention and assistance, so academic material and online sources were provided. GLAMI also identified those Scholars who do not have access to technological devices and arranged printed materials for them so they could continue their studies at home. Some Scholars had urgent need for food, as they are dependent on schools for the provision of meals, and GLAMI responded by purchasing and supplying food to them.
Ready Phase: The ”New Normal”
In mid-May, the government of Tanzania began lifting COVID-19 restrictions, including the reopening of schools in June. In this phase, GLAMI had to adapt to the new normal of operating with COVID-19 still being an unresolved issue. GLAMI conducted a survey with Scholars, teachers, and Heads of Schools to determine what immediate support they needed to face the reopening of schools. Then, we listened. The result of the survey showed that despite the fact that the entire community was happy to be going back to school, their safety from COVID-19 was still a huge concern.
Most of the schools needed assistance before students returned to prepare a safe environment. GLAMI promptly worked with Heads of Schools to make sure that they had sufficient cleaning facilities and all the sanitation supplies they needed. Our contribution was based specifically on what our Partner Schools asked for and we donated more than 100 hand washing stations, 900 liters of soap, 70 liters of sanitizer, thermoscans, and other materials to help them get ready to resume instruction.
The Malala Fund estimates that 20 million MORE secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis has passed. The safety of all the girls in our programs is a key factor in avoiding drop outs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, not just our Kisa and Binti Scholars benefit from these safety measures, but the entire student population at the schools.
Resilience Phase: #BuildBackBetter
The global pandemic has forced companies and organizations to find new and sometimes even better ways of doing business and serving our program participants. GLAMI is no exception and we are now focused on restructuring our ways of operating to meet the needs of the girls to stay in school, graduate, and become changemakers in their communities.
Three key lessons are guiding us in 2020.
Lesson 1: There is a huge gap between learning at school and learning at home.
Before COVID-19, GLAMI depended on reaching the girls solely while they were at school. Since the pandemic, we realize we need to find new and different ways of reaching them. During the school closure due to COVID-19, necessary alternative learning was taken seriously and given priority. This taught us that learning should be happening in parallel at schools and at home. This applies more broadly to the entire school system – how can we reach more youth, particularly vulnerable adolescent girls, with the essential soft skills information we have to teach? GLAMI is looking at having our curriculum turned into radio content so that our Scholars (and other girls!) can keep learning even when the Mentors are not physically with them.
Lesson 2: The essential part of GLAMI’s program is the relationship that a Mentor builds with her Scholars.
The strength and positive impact of these relationships was demonstrated during the school closure. Most Scholars reached out to their Mentors for assistance when they needed help and some Mentors were able to rescue Scholars from being married off during the pandemic. We are positive more girls will now return to school because they had the support they needed. Even more emphasis will be placed on building the Mentor to Mentee relationship.
Lesson 3: It is crucial for all the stakeholders to work together to improve a girl’s education.
Working very closely with the parents during the pandemic proved how our programs have impacted the girls that we serve. Most parents became close to the Mentors and, moving forward, GLAMI will continue to engage parents/guardians on a more regular basis to keep them informed on the progress of their girls and remind them of the huge role that they play to make their girls successful in their education journey.
Now that schools are open in Tanzania, GLAMI staff will partially return to their mentoring roles on a reduced schedule with school visits for the rest of 2020 twice a month. Meetings at the office will be held twice a month to allow GLAMI to evaluate the situation and create more safety measures before we fully resume work at our two offices.
Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI) is AfricAid’s program implementation partner in Tanzania. GLAMI mentors secondary school girls in Tanzania to complete their education, develop into confident leaders, and transform their own lives and their communities. We equip girls to overcome challenges and reach their full potential because educated girls create lasting positive change.