The COVID-19 pandemic has had such a devastating effect on all of us and has changed the way we act and do things massively. It is estimated that the pandemic will set us back another decade, and with the current trend, the 17 sustainable development goals may not be achieved until 2082 (Ipsos, 2020). For Ripple Effect, Covid-proofing our work has to be our immediate priority in both enhancing organisational resilience for the future and sustaining our social impact.
All countries in the East Africa region where we work are affected in very similar ways, with infection rates averaging 5-12%. However, safety measures have been varied across different countries, with Uganda and Rwanda having prolonged lockdowns compared to Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Zambia. Unfortunately, the vaccination rates in most countries are extremely low at less than 10%, and the pandemic will persist for another 18 months, when most countries have planned to have 100% of the population vaccinated.
As Uganda moves through its second wave of COVID-19, and with only 1% of the population currently fully vaccinated, I am fearful for the family farmers that we partner with.
With a curfew being enforced from 7pm in the evening until 5.30am by the military, many farmers are losing out on key times to sell their produce. This is compounded by leisure businesses being closed, a ban on public transport (produce is often sold by the roadside) and the falling prices in the agricultural sector, as more people migrate to work in rural locations with the hope of not contracting the disease as easily as in urban areas.
A lack of public transport also means many families we partner with cannot access healthcare, and when families do attend a facility, they are overcrowded. Due to the President’s directives not to cross districts for safety reasons, many pregnant women are also unable to access vital antenatal services.
As I’m sure you can imagine, our life-changing training sessions have been greatly impacted. As movement is limited, there has been no household training visits and when group training of under 20 people can go ahead safely (with social distancing and wearing face masks), many farmers do not attend due to fear of catching COVID-19. I am worried that our farmers' progress in learning sustainable growing techniques that will help them fight hunger and feed their families is being seriously interrupted. Families are focusing on the short-term goals of survival again instead of mid and long-term goals of improving their livelihoods for good.
Schools are currently closed, forcing children to stay at home and miss out on their education. This is even more dangerous for girls sent home from school as they become more exposed to exploitation and abuse. Vulnerable women and girls are also being economically exploited as they are viewed as cheap labour. We have seen violence against women increase as husbands are finding it more difficult to provide for their families.
My colleagues are finding that farmers and their families are experiencing trauma, depression and stress for fear of falling back into poverty which they’ve worked so hard to escape - but we’re determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Tough times call for tough people and tough measures. This is the story of Ripple Effect. Everyone is resolute about making a difference in the lives of our participants in spite of the hard times. We all recognise that this is not going to be easy, but we are prepared to give it our all.
Our focus on hygiene and sanitation continues with community awareness training, helping families to keep safe in the pandemic. Ripple Effect trainers have worked tirelessly to be flexible and ensure our sustainable farming training sessions can go ahead in whatever capacity they can – often in smaller groups or now even over the phone!
Ripple Effect trainers are also teaching families alternative ways of producing income, such as all groups receiving training in liquid soap making and some in baking and beekeeping. Links to market are then being mapped on behalf of farmers to ensure they can still sell their produce. Farmer groups are also receiving seeds so they can become local seed producers, empowering them to grow a sustainable business for their community.
Our transformative household methodology training continues, working with families to promote the rights of women and girls and highlight how a family can work together to be more successful whilst limiting gender-based violence. To ensure families are more resilient to the effects of COVID-19, we will work alongside them to resolve conflict, improve harmony in the home and share workloads.
COVID-19 is perhaps a harsh reminder that we all need each other whatever our situations and circumstances, but most importantly, to take care of one another. We are not safe if our neighbour is affected. It is a reminder that we must all live in harmony with our environment and look after the welfare of animals for us to be safe. Hopefully, this is a call for us all to walk and work together to make this world a better place, and our interventions as Ripple Effect are aligned to this.
Ripple Effect’s strategic ambition of helping an additional 5 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2030 must remain absolute. I am therefore excited to be joining Ripple Effect, a family that is passionate and committed to extending a helping hand to the most vulnerable in our society. Ripple Effect has already carried out incredible work towards realising a confident, thriving and sustainable rural Africa.
We are very thankful to supporters throughout this period for standing with us. COVID-19 is no doubt our new normal, which we will have to contend with for a long time. A recent survey by Ipsos (2020) has shown that the pandemic has affected both social and economic progress, and that communities are keen to focus on social outcomes such as good health and well-being. To make this important social impact, our interventions will require longer-term planning and support, hopefully appealing to all our loyal supporters who are prepared to walk with us on this journey.
We hope to restore hope in the communities with who we partner, even in such a challenging and frightening situation. Thank you for your ongoing support of Ripple Effect – with you by our side, we can keep as many families as safe as possible from COVID-19 and from falling back into poverty.
Fred Ochieng is Ripple Effect’s new Africa Director.
Image - Rose, a project participant, washing her hands with a Tip Tap in rural Uganda.
Ripple Effect supporters have already been incredibly generous this year, however, if you can spare a small gift today, we’ll put it in to action straight away to help families keep safe from COVID-19 and from falling back into poverty.