At Tree Aid, our work continues to support the communities we work with but our priority is to ensure that we keep our staff, partners and the people we work with safe and well.
The communities we support are among the most vulnerable people in the world, facing malnutrition and hunger and with little access to healthcare. Health systems generally are not equipped to deal with the strain of a health pandemic and, on top of this, health systems in Mali and Niger have been weakened further by conflict and insecurity.
At the time of writing, the coronavirus outbreaks in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Ethiopia have, thankfully, been lower than we might have expected. But testing capability varies hugely and other factors mean the real number of cases could be much higher.
The governments in our countries of operation have taken broadly similar measures to the UK to restrict movement and promote self-isolation. Working across multiple countries means adhering to a variety of restrictions and guidelines such as social distancing and social gathering regulations.
The communities we work with across the drylands live rurally. The remoteness of their villages protects them so we are making sure that no unnecessary staff travel is made from outside the communities to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the rural communities we work with.
Working with our network of local partners has helped to ensure that work can continue, with many of our project partners living and working close to the communities. Whilst carrying out our project work, Tree Aid and our partners are also promoting the importance of preventative measures such as hand washing and social distancing to the people we work with.
Because of the remoteness of their communities, many of the people we work with have heard very little about COVID-19. A lack of technology and the reliance on word of mouth gives the potential for misinformation to spread easily. To combat this, Tree Aid has been dedicating time to explaining the situation to the people we work with during any sessions we have with them.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in early March, just as the baseline study for our She Grows project in Mali got underway. This survey is used to measure participant’s living standards before the project intervention. We were able to adapt the survey to include a ten minute section dedicated to explaining coronavirus to participants and answering any questions they have about the virus.
Through these sessions, we have provided communities with information on how the virus spreads, who is vulnerable, and what hygiene and social distancing measures communities can implement. We are also ensuring that all staff wear face masks and gloves and maintain social distancing during these sessions.
Thanks to the great work of our local staff and partners, Tree Aid has largely been able to continue our work where it is still safe to do so. In Burkina Faso, despite the challenges faced during a global pandemic, we have built 145 boulis – large pits that conserve water throughout the year – which are quickly filling with rainwater and communities are already using them to water their trees and crops.
With circumstances changing on a daily basis, we are constantly monitoring the situation in the countries we are working in and are prepared to make any changes needed to keep our staff and the people we work with safe.