Lockdown - week 8

By Dr Brian Barrett, Scottish Hub Director

We are in the thick of it now. With almost a third of the global population under some form of lockdown, our behaviours and lives have unexpectedly been forced to change. A return to the pre Covid-19 conditions, which many of us expected or possibly hoped for in the early stages of inconvenience, appears more fanciful by the day.

While the pandemic has brought about a heightened sense of unity and the reassurance that ‘we are all in this together’, this doesn’t represent the reality for everyone. Covid-19 does not discriminate based on class or nationality, but it does disproportionately affect older demographics and black and ethnic minority (BAME) groups. As the most developed and richest nations with the most sophisticated healthcare and welfare systems in the world are struggling to cope, how poorer nations will fare is almost unthinkable. It is those that are less well-off and the least developed nations that will likely suffer the most from the virus. The gendered impacts of virus interventions are demonstrating that they could actually be more harmful to women than the virus, with countries around the world reporting sharp increases in the number of women suffering from physical and mental abuse in the home by their aggressors.

All of us are anxious for the future, for the health of our loved ones, our environment, and our livelihoods. We are at a critical juncture, and with our collective expertise and experiences in the SFA Network, from local to regional, we are in a privileged position to lead and shape where we go from here. We have been afforded time to reflect and confront the inconvenient realities of our current pathways and indeed the behaviours that led us here. Our health is intimately linked to the health of our environment, our wildlife and our livestock. Collectively, we can push for a sustainable recovery where we treat one another and the planet in the way that we know we should, to secure a symbiotic socio-ecological functioning now and for the future. Encouragingly, the green shoots of an equitable and sustainable recovery are emerging across nations. Past behavioural norms are being disrupted and need to be made irreparable.


Embracing the new normal

By Professor Oitshepile MmaB Modise, Director of the SFA Botswana Hub

Covid-19’s greatest lesson is that it has taught us that we are all one, humanity interdependent by all means practical. We are more aware of common things that bind us together irrespective of our nationalities. We feel for each other, care for each other and wish all good life. This togetherness can be likened though at a macro level to SFA family, an international network of researchers, practitioners and communities of practice which has brought together people from different educational and geographic regions. Though to a greater extent virtual, Covid-19 has propelled the need to think together, think of each other and has driven concerted international commitment to seek solutions to combat the disease. Countries of the world have realised more than ever before that they need each other to win the war against this disease.

The network did not suffer adverse effects because sooner than later, members came to the party and acclimatised to the new normal in an encouraging manner. SFA Botswana Hub has been equally affected by corona and its offshoots like lockdown. However, with members’ determination to keep together, we quickly established a WhatsApp group for ease of communication in addition to our usual e-mail. By the first week of lockdown, it was apparent that there was fear, uncertainty and a feeling of loneliness and sharing our experiences eased these emotions. All could not help but feel the pressure of Covid-19, we talked about it, shared our fears and supported each other. We sooner realised that work has to continue under our new normal. The team continued the normal business such as looking for grant applications and other opportunities for growth coming along with this pandemic. Creating time for work at home with family members around became a source of support and where necessary flexibility was exercised on work-hours based on home circumstances.

Our ‘new normal’, (referring to emerging and new ways of adapting to life forced on us by the Corona Virus) is working away from official premises using internet, for example, communicating to each other online and through phone calls. Practical steps to create a new normal such as ensuring internet connectivity and securing devices that will facilitate our work were taken. This proved to work for the Hub as we continued to share information and communicate with our administrator and the larger network. The current circumstances also enabled us to think outside the box. We became aware of the fact that some areas of Botswana are not benefiting from the government information dissemination channels like television, newspaper and some cannot even afford to buy a radio. These people get very little or no reliable information about Covid-19. The Hub then thought it would be prudent to initiate the process of securing support for community lifelong learning radios as crisis tools for disseminating and providing education during a time of crisis as well instil lifelong learning principles especially on issues that affect communities. We were able to successfully create a new relationships with colleagues in the Health Sciences and Engineering departments of the University of Botswana. This was meant to facilitate successful implementation of the Rapid Response to Covid 19 project recently submitted to the SFC-GCRF internal scheme at the University of Glasgow. Unfortunately, this application was not successful. Nevertheless, these new connections for the Hub was a great step because the two departments have expressed interest in working with us in the future. We also saw our team members exercise their creative capacity in sharing the Covid-19 message with the Network through art. Finally, while home online connectivity can be a challenge, access has made coping better. We experienced a model of coordinating activities that ensured resilience in the Network.


A drive to remember: ECOaction at work in the Covid-19 lockdown

By Reagan Kandole, Mia Perry, Vanessa Duclos, Raihana Ferdous and Deepa Pullanikkatil

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to expose the most vulnerable people in Uganda’s communities. As the country transitioned towards a total lockdown, banning public transport, strict regulations on the labor force and only essential services — monitored by the health and security sector — the progress and gains made by community initiatives like ECOaction have been threatened. ECOaction is a non profit organisation that creates income and livelihood opportunities for the most marginalised urban youth and women through innovations in waste management. ECOaction is located in Banda, an unplanned settlement of Kampala City, Uganda. The organisation works with the most vulnerable groups of plastic collectors, mainly elderly women and young adults, and provides them with alternative markets for recycled products. ECOaction also builds the capacity of its beneficiaries around waste management and environmental conservation. One of the main challenges in our community right now is that they are not able to sell any of the plastics they collect to the recycling companies during the lockdown, which means they have no money to pay for food to feed their families.

For most of the women we support, the main source of income is collecting plastics and if they cannot move around to collect and sell these bottles, then they are not able to feed their families. Even with the government’s attempts to distribute food to the most vulnerable, not everyone will be able to access that support and there is an urgent need for more basic supplies to be distributed. Otherwise, there is a risk that many people will die of starvation, malaria, stress and many other diseases”. Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction.

The photo story below depicts the journey that ECOaction’s team took, despite public transport bans and distancing policies, to reach out to this community


Covid-19 and appreciating Public and Green Spaces

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network

The other day, my colleague Vanessa Duclos, the Research Manager of the SFA Network, shared with me a picture of her family cycling on Buchanan Street, which is one of the main shopping thoroughfares in Glasgow. The emptiness of the place (as it was during lockdown) in her photo struck me and I began dwelling on the importance of public and green spaces in the wake of COVID-19. From my stays in Glasgow, I remember Buchanan street as a bustling shopping center and public space filled with pedestrians and shoppers. Being a nature lover, my eyes would automatically go towards the manicured healthy ornamental trees in public spaces. I particularly enjoyed Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and during one visit, it had snowed, and the area was looking so beautiful. On another visit, Christmas decorations filled the space and looked spectacular at night, tempting me to take long walks notwithstanding the cold. I purposely chose the route from Buchanan, through Sauchiehall street and then on to the very green Kelvingrove park during my daily walk to the University of Glasgow to appreciate the beautiful public and green spaces of the city.

While seated at my desk in Mbabane, Eswatini, next to a window overlooking our backyard, I realize that today is the 50th day of entirely staying and working from home. Looking through my window at the backyard, I feel grateful for this green space. Every day, to refresh myself, I take walks in the yard. I listen to the birds chirping, check on the few tomatoes and herbs growing, inhale the fresh air and watch the branches of trees sway and leaves flutter in the wind; then I return to my desk reinvigorated. This daily routine gives me a deep sense of peace and contentment, and the strength to cope with the isolation due to the COVID-19 crisis. I can testify that nature has healing power and we have a biological connection with nature.

During one of my trips to Glasgow, I talked about “Biophilia” with colleagues. Biophilia is the human desire to commune with nature (a term coined by the Harvard naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson). Biophilia explains why nature has a therapeutic effect on us as it is a genetically based human need to be close to nature. It explains why we feel so happy after a hike on a mountain or a walk in a forest or resting by the beach as the ocean waves splash nearby. “Biophilic Design” for cities can help plan the built environment so that we may experience the human benefits of biophilia. But, looking at city designs in some parts of the world, I fear that green and public spaces are getting smaller, due to increasing demand for land and a growing urban population. Yet, there is also a greater realization and awareness and trend to bring the outdoors in. Skylights, indoor plants, furniture and built environments that incorporate plants are becoming popular. I hope the Biophilic design movement continues to grow in influence on city designs, making our cities greener and giving every dweller the benefits that green spaces provide.

This morning, my daughter and I saw a Kingfisher bird in the yard, we stared at it through our window with smiles on our faces, I felt a deep appreciation of nature, a deep sense of “biophilia”. Yes, this green space in our backyard was making the isolation during COVID-19 endurable. Everybody needs this while physical distancing, as green spaces and nature contact could provide positive well-being effects and counteract stress. We have had a lot of online discussions in SFA on how the world could be post COVID-19 and rethinking the “new normal”. Post COVID-19, as the world continues to urbanize, let us not forget our public and green spaces. Let us appreciate these spaces more, preserve them, expand them and try to nurture them, because they do keep us sane during difficult times.


COVID-19 and being Nimble

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director

I have just concluded an hour-long “Zoom” call with colleagues from the University of Glasgow. It was one of several digital meetings we have had these past weeks with members from the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network. The network has members from UK, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. The majority of the meetings have been to discuss the way forward, after our symposium (which was to be held in Malawi in mid-March) was postponed due to COVID-19. Today’s call touched upon exploring possibilities of holding digital conferences in the future. We would miss the face to face connection, but there are advantages to digital conferences including the opportunity to open up participation to a larger group and eliminate carbon emissions from the flights needed to hold physical meetings. We realized that some countries may have bandwidth challenges, and poor connectivity issues, while some members may not have good digital devices if they are at home without access to work computers. One thing was clear: as a network, we have to change and change quickly in this transforming situation.

The word that stayed in my mind from the meeting was “nimble”. A nimble person is quick, light, agile in movement or action, clever, and adaptable. In today’s situation, individuals, organizations and countries have to be nimble and here I share some examples. Around the world, companies including information technology companies immediately made “work from home” the norm. Speed and agility were demonstrated by Unilever, which launched initiatives in the US, India, China, UK, Netherlands, Italy and other countries around the world, with teams manufacturing and distributing millions of bars of free soap. Companies active across West Africa are sharing information and coordinating their responses through the West Africa Private Sector Coronavirus Platform (WAPSCON19) which is focusing on the livelihoods and health of the wider community as well as keeping employees healthy and safe and businesses running. Singapore received a lot of praise at how nimble they were in their response to COVID-19 with quick action through testing, quarantining, information sharing, and the sanitization of public spaces.  They adopted financial measures such as bringing forth a supplementary solidarity budget to safeguard jobs during the social distancing period.  Similarly, China’s neighbour Vietnam, also received praise for responding to the outbreak early with a risk assessment in January and the proactive National Steering Committee for COVID-19 response and preparedness. There are some examples of how being nimble is proving to be an asset in these times to avoid massive losses.

While the world is mostly focusing (rightly so) on the health-care aspects and how to revive the economy, we, at SFA feel that there is need to give attention to the social impacts too. These may include getting appropriate and culturally relevant messages across to rural communities whose livelihoods depend on stepping out of their homes every day; documenting stories of how people are coping and discussing mental health issues; promoting small scale home based mask making and soap making to help with income generation while safe distancing etc. As a network, we are trying to respond to this pandemic in meaningful ways using our strengths. We issued a survey to understand what has worked with COVID-19 responses in our country hubs and beyond. We are exploring making digital conferencing a norm, and we are trying to use the opportunity of going digital to open up the network and allow greater participation. We are rethinking “normal”, abandoning rigidness and wholeheartedly, if on wobbly legs, embracing being “nimble”.


Translation into arts

By Vanessa Duclos and Reagan Kandole

Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction, an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, shares with us how the current worldwide crisis coverage inspired him to translate information into arts – channeling the doubts during the lockdown into creativity. If you want to get in touch with the artist, you can do so here.


Corona

By Tom Ketlogetswe, Thapong Visual Arts Centre, Botswana

 

Your strength is not in doubt
You are stronger than many imagined

Nations are perishing
Locals are hiding in fear

Your strength knows no boundaries
Your sweeping powers are unimaginable

Leaders across the globe shiver
Heroes are neither spared

The poor have no place to hide
The rich are contemplating hiding in cosy closets

You have unleashed your strength
Indeed you have surpassed your immediate predecessors

Copyright: Tom Ketlogetswe 2020


Photo essay - Clean Air Project Launch

By Reagan Kandole, Dalton Otim, Anthony Kadoma and Vanessa Duclos

The proliferation of plastics globally is now a major challenge, especially over the last two decades. Worldwide, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic each year, 50% of which is for single use purposes. More than 8 million tons is dumped into the ocean yearly, becoming a big environmental issue and threat to our ecosystems and biodiversity. Kampala city, Uganda, generates 750 tons of waste a day of which half is collected and sent to the dumpsites. The other half, mainly plastics and polythene, is irresponsibly disposed and finding its way from our communities and streets, to drainage channels, to rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

This problem is even more prominent in the urban slum dwellings. School setting is one of the best platforms for promoting proper solid waste management through education, skills workshops, and fun activities outside classrooms, hence enhancing teamwork. By sensitizing the children, behavior changes can be fostered around proper waste management.

ECOaction, an SFA Network NGO partner, together with Kampala City Council Authority, AEIF Alumni 2019 and five primary schools in Kampala City (Namirembe Infants School; Bat Valley Primary School; Kawempe Muslim School;  St Ponsiano Kyamula School and Luzira Church of Uganda School) received funding from the Ugandan US Embassy to implement the “Clean Air Project” in 2020.

The following photo essay takes you through the launch event, which took place on March 6th 2020.


Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Dr Mia Perry, SFA Co-Director, has just published (April 6th) a brilliant paper* entitled: “Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times” in International Literacy Association – Reading Research Quarterly. This is a timely publication amid the current COVID19 crisis worldwide.

Abstract

Through a consideration of literacies in theory and international policy, this article pushes at the edges of existing frameworks of functional and sociocultural literacies. In critique of existing policy directives, the author explores an approach to literacy that engages in the affective and posthuman relationality of human and environment and in the plurality of literacies globally that are overshadowed in prevailing models of literacy education. The author was motivated by a commitment to literacy education responsive to a world that is unsustainable in its current practices, to a world that faces increasing fragmentation and vulnerability (socially and ecologically) while certain types of expertise, technologies, and global infrastructures continue to proliferate. As a mainstay of education and a tool of social change, literacies are inseparable from policy and practices of sustainability, equity, and development. Pluriversality is a concept emerging from decolonial theory that provides a counternarrative to contemporary Northern assumptions of the universal. Building on a history of ideas around pluriversality gives sociopolitical and ecological momentum to affect and relationality in literacy studies. The author challenges normative constructions of literacy education as Eurocentric and neocolonial, effectively supporting a pedagogy that normalizes certain practices and people and, by extension, sustains inequity and environmental degradation. Through interwoven research projects, the author highlights the contentious aspects of functional and sociocultural approaches to literacy and the possibilities of moving beyond them. In doing so, the author describes and demonstrates the practical and political implications of affect theory and relationality in literacies education in a plural anthropocenic world.

” It is a paper that I have been working on for over a year and our very own Dr Alex Okot is quoted, EcoAction is featured and the Sustainable Future in Africa Network acknowledged throughout for the immense influence this network has had on my work in literacies “ – Dr Mia Perry

 

* Mia Perry. 2020. Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times. International Literacy Association – Reading Research Quarterly. 0(0). pp 1-17 | doi:10.1002/rrq.312


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.