It seems like a long time since the ball three and a half weeks ago. There was such a feel-good factor in the room, with everyone smiling and enjoying themselves. It makes me even more grateful for everyone’s generosity during the evening.
In the UK, everything is surreal. I feel like I am in a scifi movie but no-one remembered to give me my lines. I always work from home, but it must be hard for others to adapt to new ways of working. All schools and universities are now closed which makes things very difficult for families with children. Older people are self-isolating – they are probably feeling very lonely. And the hospitals are heaving with sick patients. I feel for everyone and thank NHS staff for helping us through this period along with the supermarkets, teachers, delivery drivers and other key workers.
As we speak, Zambia has just notched up its third case of Coronavirus: a man from Pakistan who entered the country on 18 March and has since been quarantined. Fortunately, he is doing well and his contacts have been traced and are self-isolating. But we know from our experience in the UK how quickly the tide can turn when this trickle of cases increases exponentially.
Following advice from the Zambian Ministry of Community Development (who we are registered with in Zambia), discussions with Justin, his team of staff, workers and students in Zambia, and trustees in the UK, we have decided that our students will continue to stay at our learning centre for the foreseeable future. We are a very small community and live in relative isolation, so we believe our students are safer than in the capital where their families live, as long as we take precautions. This is what we have put in place:
- Implemented strict handwashing policies
- Made sure we have good supplies of bleach and Dettol so that our cooks can clean down work surfaces effectively
- No hugging or handshakes
- Asked everyone to keep two metres at least from everyone outside
- Very restricted contact for the students with people from outside of Our Moon’s student village
- Very restricted movement by staff outside of our land
- Workers from the local village to observe handwashing policies if they are working on or near our land
- Food to be brought in by one key worker
- We will continue to make sure that we have adequate food supplies of the staple and non-perishable food items as well as basic medicines
- We have bought a thermometer to take the temperature of anyone showing symptoms of the virus so that we can make sure we deal with them appropriately
- Retained all staff and interns in Zambia.
Students’ parents have been informed. All students are allowed to go home if they or their families choose, but on the understanding that they will not be able to return until the all-clear is received in Zambia and movement is once again unrestricted
Despite these measures, if the situation changes adversely, we may require students to return home. If this is the case, we shall make sure that they are transported home in a way that is safe for them and for our staff.
We already work, to some extent, with our students remotely. I have an afternoon a week, increasing after Easter to three sessions a week with the students using online platforms. We have other tutors and support who work with the students across a number of different media. We are seeking to make improvements to our IT network to make this easier and to make sure that I can carry out remotely the intensive programme I had been planning for my April visit.
On a more practical level, our students are helping to clear some land so that they can grow some vegetables. This will ensure some degree of sustainability in case food supplies dry up.
If students have to or wish to return home, then we will provide them with a mobile wifi unit (mifi) and data allowance to help them access all our lessons. We will make sure they have adequate assignments to keep them busy as well as the text books they require to study for SATs and SAT subject tests, the exams required for entry to US universities. We will also provide our students with a food allowance as their families are unable to support them – we don’t want their families’ inability to provide a meal for their children to be the reason they want them to stay with us if it is no longer the right decision for them to stay. This means that our costs will increase a little rather than decrease if they need to return home because of the costs of the mifis, which are around £25 each.
Our Moon’s students are incredibly resilient young people. I feel really proud of the way they are responding to this crisis and their determination to continue learning. Justin and his team are responding very optimistically and keen to help make this period as positive an experience as possible.