Due to the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, the world turned upside down – and stopped. Seemingly overnight, schools and businesses closed down, and people began to practice social distancing in order to curb the spread of the virus. Tanzania is no exception, but AfricAid (and our program implementation partner in Tanzania, Girls Livelihood and Mentoring Initiative, or GLAMI) have most definitely not stopped.
Even in normal times, adolescent girls in Tanzania face challenges to stay in school and maximize their potential to become leaders who can transform their communities. Binti Shupavu and the Kisa Project are programs that are designed to assist girls in overcoming many obstacles. What about now? How are the 6,605 program participants still being supported at this difficult time?
One of our funding partners, She’s the First, explains that girls who are associated with an established program are less vulnerable to risks such as becoming pregnant during their time at home and have a greater chance of returning to school. We are doing everything we can to make sure that the Scholars in our two programs still feel connected with their Mentor during this unprecedented time. Our impact has been rooted in deep, consistent relationships between Mentors and Scholars – and will continue to be.
Managing Directors for Programs and Operations at GLAMI, Devotha Mlay and Monica Swai, share how the organization has nimbly responded to the Corona Crisis.
1) How has the Tanzanian government reacted to the Coronavirus?
Even before we had our first case, the government made the public aware of the virus and ways to protect ourselves, starting with no hand shaking and hugging as that is our way of greeting each other.
And after we had our first case, the government increased public awareness, increased security in all airports and borders, kept everyone calm, and issued a way forward.
The minister of health has been addressing the public daily on updates of the victims, the spread, and what needs to be done to avoid getting the virus. All schools were closed one day after we had the first victim confirmed, crowded places like bus stations, markets, hospitals, banks, etc. have soap and water stations outside their doors for washing hands. The government has also asked the public to avoid all unnecessary gatherings and report if they are having the symptoms using the toll-free numbers provided.
2) How has daily life changed in Tanzania? Are people taking social distancing seriously?
Note: this is a snapshot of conditions in Tanzania on March 26, 2020. This is a rapidly evolving situation.
At first when the virus was not here yet, people did not worry about it as it was believed that it did not infect or kill Africans (black people), so even when we had our first case still people called it a common cold and kept doing the norms. A few people that were aware (this means the educated people) panicked – and those with savings and living in Arusha, where the first victim was discovered, went to the supermarkets and shopped for a month worth of groceries, bought sanitizers, gloves and masks, and made the price for these things skyrocket.
With the government’s daily updates of the right information and imposing fines for anyone who is caught spreading lies, people are now understanding and trying their level best to protect themselves. But apart from the students staying at home because the schools are closed, everything else is still the same – people go to their jobs. Most Tanzanians are day laborers, so they cannot afford not working as they need their daily pay for their daily meals. Most of them also use public transportation – the typical buses are small and jammed so full that you have to bend down while standing. Bus stations are are also tightly packed. With the government order, bus drivers have been instructed not to take as many passengers and people wash their hands before entering the buses.
You can see that social distancing is not easy in our country. We are just praying that we can keep controlling the spread because a lot of people would suffer in a lot of ways.
4/24/20 Update: Religious leaders are influential in Tanzania. Large gatherings have subsided because they have encouraged people to stay home and not go to churches and mosques.
6/29/20: Update: Schools reopen in Tanzania. GLAMI provides hand washing stations and other protective measures.
3) What has happened with schools in Tanzania?
The government ordered the closure of all schools, from pre-primary to university, on March 17 for a period of 30 days, one day after the first case of Coronavirus was reported here. We were 2 ½ weeks away from the two week Easter break at that point (it was to start April 4).
Unlike other places in the world, e-learning is not something that we can rely on here. Some secondary school students have access to a smartphone or a computer and the internet. These kids can access their curriculum materials for free through an online learning platform called Shule Direct. The reality is the vast majority of students at all levels in Tanzania, do not have this sort of access.
We are staying positive and hoping that closing the schools will help stop the spread of the Coronavirus and that they will be back in session after the 30 days. If not, it will be a challenge we will have to face. I’m sure the government will compensate for those missed days by adding on extra days at the end of the school year.
4/24/20 Update: Schools are closed “indefinitely” in Tanzania.
4) What is AfricAid/GLAMI’s plan to continue to support Scholars in the Kisa and Binti Shupavu programs during this time?
We are ALL IN to continue the mentoring relationship! The day the Tanzanian government announced the school closures, our Mentors were on the phones with Liaisons at each of our 40 Partner Schools, making sure that Scholars went home with phone numbers for our Mentors and Social Workers. As part of our efforts over the past two years to improve communications with parents, we now have contact information, including phone numbers, for nearly 6,000 families. This preparation allows us to adapt our work of empowering Scholars to this new context. 90% of Scholars have access to a phone in their household, and we are working on how to connect with the remaining 10%.
Mentors are available over the phone the same way they support Scholars during school breaks and Alumnae after graduation. However, the Mentors also have several specific objectives with daily outreach to their Scholars by texting:
- Encourage the girls during an unnerving time.
- Provide tips on how to keep studying at home.
- Provide reliable health information and recommendations (and dispel myths) from the Government of Tanzania and the World Health Organization.
Additionally, two toll-free lines have been established so that both Kisa and Binti Scholars can use if their phone is out of funds or they need to borrow a phone from a neighbor. These will be manned by our organization’s social workers. They have already proactively contacted some Scholars who were already receiving extra support.
5) How do staff/Mentors stay connected while they are working from home? How is the morale?
All of GLAMI staff are now working from home, but we have a very strong bond amongst ourselves. This helps our work to just keep going! We basically communicate very well with each other, just as we always have. Each team has its own WhatsApp group and they communicate daily. Mentors are in close touch with their Managers, and Managers with their Supervisors. There is also a general WhatsApp group for all staff where we keep each other updated and share humor.
People are actually very optimistic, although working from home is something very new for us. It’s amazing how everyone has quickly adapted to this new reality. No one is complaining, they are just doing their best to talk to their Scholars and communicate with everyone else. What pleases me the most is the positive attitude among us. The work culture we have is incredible and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
6) What is your personal plan to balance your work at home with children also at home?
My personal plan to balance my work at home with the children is to develop a routine. I wake up as if I am going to the office and my daughter, Delyth (age 4), wakes up as if she is going to school. I have explained to her why she can’t go to school, but that she still needs to study – and why I can’t go to the office, but I still need to work.
We have breakfast and school/work starts at 9am. I am her teacher now too, so beforehand, I make sure I have prepared activities for her to do for at least 3 hours. She actually calls me “teacher” now from 8am-1pm! Of course, she interrupts now and then, but it is ok. We have a short snack break around 10:30 and a one-hour lunch break at 12:30. In the afternoon, she plays with her baby sister and watches cartoons, while I continue to work until about 4-5pm.
Unfortunately, we can’t really go for walks outside since I live in a fairly crowded place. But, in the evening, we sit on the back lawn and read stories and play games. We want to make sure we don’t lose the sense of who we are and our time together. So far, so good – we are all getting used to the new routine!
There is a house being built right next door, making working from home hard for me right now. Evenings are much better, so I schedule all my calls and video meetings at that time. In the mornings, I go to the office using private transportation. With all the other staff working from home, I am pretty much alone there making it my own social distancing. I am hoping the noises outside my door will go away in the next few weeks so I won’t have to worry if the situation gets more dangerous.
On the other hand, my 11-year-old son, Sean, has gone to live with my retired parents, 15 minutes drive from my house. His school has provided online studies, worksheets, books, and weekly communications with the teachers, and this provides him with a daily routine that is so much needed at these times. Actually, my engineer father could not be happier having a student at home to mould!
We trust in the confidence, resilience, and leadership of these girls! Through Kisa and Binti Shupavu, they have learned how to voice their needs and present ideas for creative solutions. They have learned techniques to persevere in the face of obstacles. They will have a role in how their community responds to this crisis and re-imagines itself in the coming months and years.
AfricAid 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. The outcome is proactive, resilient, and socially-responsible girls who secure better jobs, raise healthier families and increase the standing of women in society.
Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI) is AfricAid’s program implementation partner in Tanzania.
Want to learn how the pandemic is impacting other communities around the globe?
Explore stories from our partners at the Posner Center in Denver, CO:
- Africa’s Tomorrow, working in rural Africa
- Into Your Hands Africa, working in Uganda
- MAIA, working in Guatemala
- The Chijnaya Foundation, working in Peru
- Shadhika, working in India