GEC’s Covid-19 Response Plan
Is Covid-19 coming to Africa? Probably. Learn more Here
Prologue: On March 17, 2020, the government of Tanzania mandated all Tanzanian schools to close immediately and all students to return home if attending residential schools. For GEC, this means that our sole program partner was shuttered for an unknown duration. As of May 10th, schools remain closed and there is no update from the government as to when they may be allowed to re-open. Term 2 begins in July; school year terminates in December.
How to navigate the unprecedented? How to find your footing? How to embrace solidarity while fighting for the population you serve?
How to predict when the train is coming and how fast it will be speeding down the tracks?
I certainly don’t know the definite answers to any of these imperative questions. What I do know is this:
GEC is proactively and deliberately trying to navigate the consequences of Covid-19 to the best of our ability and wisdom, within a context of limited information and even more limited predictability.
What will carry us through this and out the other side are primarily these four truths:
- The GEC model that is rooted in a framework of trust, deep partnership, listening and flexibility
- The ‘GEC Family’ who took a leap of faith with us from the get-go; stood with us during our first pressure-test (the dorm fire) and continue today as a community of some of the world’s most generous, thoughtful, understanding and committed people ever.
- The power of our mission and the cause we are all fighting for: girls’ rights, their education, their empowerment.
- The incredible and tough Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa
GEC has gone back to the drawing board and re-visited all of our 2020 goals & action plans, our operating and program budgets and our fundraising plan.
Revised 2020 Goals
Activities geared towards programmatic growth in Kitenga or organizational growth for GEC were put on hold, unless already fully funded with restricted funds.
1.) Kitenga Girls Secondary School survives and re-opens when the government allows; and that it not only weathers the storm but is strengthened. And when re-opened, the school can better meet needs of an on-site emergency. Both goals are addressed in Covid Response Plan, below.
2.) GEC as an organization stays afloat; no staff are laid off and we can raise the funds needed to execute revised operations and program.
The 2020 budget was scrubbed, cut, juggled, re-prioritized and alternative scenarios pending when the school is allowed to re-open were developed. Anything not aligned with revised goals was put on hold and operational expenses were pared down as well.
Defined a framework within which we will pursue our activities:
1.) An acknowledgement that there is a global spike for meeting the needs of vulnerable communities, including our own local communities – needs that didn’t even exist just weeks ago.
2.) We will respectfully proceed in a way that helps keep ‘all boats afloat’
3.) Respect that members of our donor community are facing their own personal challenges—be it through unanticipated job insecurity, to a change in personal finances.
4.) Keep the GEC ‘family’ of committed supporters informed; seek input and thought partnership.
5.) To actively fund raise to support program and organization goals by pursuing strategies that are appropriate and feasible under current conditions.
COVID-19 RESPONSE PLAN
Developed in collaboration with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa
The health, safety and security of students and the wider school community has always been of utmost importance. Even before Covid-19, two other stressors were emerging that were putting a spotlight on the need to be ramping up some activities that have been in the queue and perhaps now in need of being moved to the front on the line. Stressor One: the growing school population and Two: the continuing, unusually heavy and persistent rains.
The emergence of Covid-19 and the realization that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint, ‘sealed the deal’.
Starting immediately, we are joining the Sisters in taking the following measures to strengthen this young school, so that when it is able to re-open, it will be even better positioned to meet the needs of its community during unpredictable situations.
- Expand student health services by creating an on-campus student health clinic and infirmary and hiring a full-time school nurse. Also under consideration: the construction of an isolation room for quarantine of covid patient(s)
Background: Currently the students use the Kitenga Community Health Clinic which is run by the Sisters but not located inside the school and only fully open during community hours. Expanding services and putting them directly on campus should increase ability for pro-active healthcare, earlier treatment interventions and increased opportunities for health education.
‘Security’ is a varied bucket and includes:
- keeping the campus infrastructure and remaining staff safe while the school is closed;
- food security as the country is anticipated to be entering a recession and a time of food insecurity;
- job security for the critical workers who are invaluable to school operations
Because of the school’s remote location and the inadequacy of the nation’s road infrastructure, the biggest safety challenge right now in Kitenga is ensuring that someone(s) can be moved – transported – in an emergency. This plan includes the building of proper road infrastructure within the school campus, and the purchase of a 4×4 vehicle that is designed to handle washed out, unimproved roads – i.e a ‘safari’ Land Cruiser.
Background:Before the school opened, GEC funded an almost 5km road that connected the school to the nearest government road. We also funded the purchase of a 4-wheel drive minivan as the funds were not available at that time to get a safari type vehicle. The GEC road ends once it gets to the campus, only unimproved tracks link the buildings together and especially during the rains, everything becomes mud and vehicles often get stuck. The other gap (if one is heading to hospital) is the unimproved government road between the GEC road and the nearest village. Again, the unusually heavy and consistent rains have made this stretch very problematic – hence the need for a higher-chassied, super-strong, plows through anything, vehicle.
The longer the school remains closed, the more critical it becomes to support the students while they are at home and out of school. Levels of support can range from ensuring that student families have soap and hand-washing capacity within their households, to strategies to help keep girls safe while at home* to how to keep students learning while school is closed. Because of the nature of these communities and the geographically disperse student populations, providing various measures of support is complex. GEC is working with the Sisters to help determine how the school, with GEC’s support, can continue to play an active role in each student’s safety, security and learning while school remains closed.
The Kesho Fund
Kesho means ‘tomorrow’ in Swahili. The Kesho Fund will provide the financial resources needed to implement the Health, Security and Safety measures outlined in the plan above. The anticipated cost to meet these needs is $75,000.
As the emerging issues become clarified – much of it depending on length of school closing – additional funds are likely to be needed.
As of May 10th, a $15,000 challenge grant has been met and $30,000 has been raised towards the $75,000 KESHO Fund goal.
If you’d like to make a contribution to the Kesho Fund, click here and in the ‘comment box’ – write Kesho.
In closing, please understand that the situation remains fluid and hence GEC has to remain flexible and responsive. I truly believe that we can count on the resiliency that got us through the after-math of the dorm fire to get us through this next challenge as well.
I was in Kitenga immediately before Covid-19 took off. Please know that the Sisters, teachers and especially the 120 students of Kitenga hold so much gratitude and love for the GEC community. Thank you for being such incredible partners.
Stay safe, keep well ~
Learn more about Covid-19 in sub-Saharan Africa:
* Research from the Ebola outbreak in Africa clearly shows how the vulnerability for women and girls spikes during such a health crisis. Significant increases for girls in rates of: teen pregnancy, violence, child marriages, and not returning to school after the crisis.