Now that the Democratic Republic of Congo has closed all schools because of COVID-19, Cordaid supports hundreds of parent committees all over the vast country to organize homeschooling. “There’s no internet, let alone e-learning facilities in the remote areas. Parents now need to teach their kids, and they can use some support”, says Kinshasa-based Programme Director Charlotte Lepri.
On April 6, 161 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in DR Congo, most of them in Kinshasa and a handful in Eastern Congo. 18 people had died from the virus. “So far, the majority of victims and patients ‘imported’ the disease after they returned from infected areas in Europe and Asia”, Lepri says. “That’s why areas as the international airport and the Gombe, the richest part of Kinshasa where most of the COVID-19 cases are, are closely monitored”, she continues.
Protecting the poorest parts of the city
Currently, a few of the richer parts of Kinshasa have been locked down. “They are trying to prevent the virus from jumping to the densely populated shanty towns if Kinshasa. If it does, it would be a major issue. The fact that cases have been confirmed in the poorer and conflict-affected Eastern part of the country, is a dire sign”, says Lepri. “Hardly any people are tested and, like in the rest of the world, it is really hard to get a clear picture of the spread of the pandemic. But cases and even deaths are bound to be higher in number.”
Early March, Cordaid started to prepare for what was coming. Medical staff from our health care programmes trained colleagues in Kinshasa as well as in the field offices in the east. A lot of the precautions – thorough handwashing, physical distancing – were akin to the ones people still knew from the Ebola crisis.
“We work closely with thousands of health facilities and with schools all over the country. That network in itself is now an asset in the fight against COVID-19”
Charlotte Lepri, Programme Director in Kinshasa
Scenario’s for a new reality
“After this, we worked out confinement scenarios for each of our projects – our vast health care projects, but also those in education, security and justice, and others”, ms Lepri says. “We defined the essentials of our field operations and figured out what could still be done if Cordaid staff worked form home.”
Today, these scenarios are a reality. 90% of Cordaid staff, most of whom are Congolese, works from home, salaries were paid in advance allowing people to stock food and non-food items. Life-saving activities, like medicine distribution for HIV and TB patients, continue with slight delays only. IT systems and connections permitting, home-confined staff works around the clock coordinating, reporting and working out new interventions. International NGOs in DR Congo closely collaborate online to assure humanitarian access and continuity in these times of confinement.
Marooned in transit
Most of the local implementing partner organisations continue field operations while adhering to national measures like distancing and a ban on 20+ gatherings. Air traffic, international and domestic, is practically at a standstill. One of our staff marooned in transit while on his way home. He has been waiting for 10 days. “He is fine”, Lepri says. “We just hope he safely arrives home soon.”
Before launching new COVID-19 interventions, the first response was to redirect ongoing program activities. “We work closely with thousands of health facilities and with schools all over the country. That network in itself is now an asset in the fight against COVID-19”, says Lepri. All these facilities now do what they can to slow down the spread. “First by raising awareness of risks and prevention. Later, once we manage to procure face masks and other material, we hope to equip health centres for COVID-19 health responses.”
Closing classes and finding alternative forms of education
DR Congo’s most drastic nationwide measure was the closure of schools. Many countries have taken this decision. But unlike richer parts of the world with ample e-learning facilities, Congolese kids have not a lot of alternative means to continue some sort of formal education. In fact, for many of them simply going to school had been a triumph in the first place. Millions of children in rural areas lack the means to go to class. And many schools lack teachers and means to assure quality education. This is why Cordaid’s results-based financing (RBF) programme supports 1350 schools in improving the quality of their services.
“Currently, all schools in DRC temporarily closed their doors”, Lepri explains. “In practice, this means the curriculum of millions of children and adolescents has stopped. Online learning is not an option for the vast majority. This is why we are working closely with hundreds of the parent committees of schools we work with. And with local radios, who broadcast lectures and educational sessions. Through them, we support alternative education, by providing parents with teaching material. But also with clean water, because even that is lacking. Most parents have just one concern, which is to toil for food and other basic needs. By supporting them, and giving them the means, they can organize some forms of education for children. Even in the strict setting of COVID-19 measures”, Lepri says.
Meanwhile in Kinshasa
Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, Charlotte Lepri herself is stuck at home, like a few other billion people around the globe. “Streets are empty here, which is a weird sight. Since today, part of the city is locked down. I am doing okay here. But in some other parts of the city, confinement measures might well bar the majority from earning their day’s wages. In the near future, if lockdowns persist, this is something the government, the international community and aid organisations will need to address. This health crisis can lead to a socio-economic crisis very quickly”, she concludes.