It’s going in the right direction

By: Johnny Baltzersen 

In Denmark, we are pleased that all corona restrictions have been put on hold. Occasionally, we also hear about the corona situation in countries close to us, but Danish media do not report much on how COVID-19 is unfolding around the globe. This newsletter cannot compensate for that, but we can provide a brief update on the corona situation in the countries where CICED has partners and projects.

Here is a brief status of the projects in Bolivia, Mongolia and Nepal. There are corona-relevant links to the WHO Coronavirus overview and the Johns Hopkins University Corona Resource Center, so you can follow up on numbers and trends yourself.

Bolivia

It’s going in the right direction. Since the infection rate peaked with more than 3,200 daily cases in early June, daily cases are now between 200 and 400-27% of the populationis fully vaccinated.

CICED’s project with Acción Andina de Educación in the Potosí Highlands is back on track. Earlier in the year, corona had closed all the schools, locked down the villages and many project activities were put on hold. When even project employees were infected with COVID-19, the outlook was a little bleak. But phone conversations with partner AAE over the past week let optimism into the project space.

– Even the youth hostels are full, says Pedro Apala, project coordinator at AAE. The parents have played a big role in getting the shelters up and running again.

The boarding schools are a prerequisite for children, especially girls, to continue school after grade 6, which is the last year of Bolivian primary school. Access to middle school requires young people to move to larger villages, but this requires safe and secure accommodation. Especially for the girls. Many parents are afraid to send their daughters to middle school far from home if there are no proper and safe conditions. Girls are severely underrepresented in all schooling beyond primary school. Nationally, only 60% of young people complete upper secondary or vocational education. In Potosí, the figure is 45%, and girls’ share is just 10%.

– We had feared that the prolonged lockdowns had caused many to drop out. Fortunately, this is not the case, continues Pedro Apala, who is also pleased that there has not been the usual turnover of teachers that often makes retention of project results difficult.

There’s no clear explanation for why the annual turnover of teachers hasn’t happened. This may be due to corona and all the uncertainties that have come with it, but it may, says Pedro Apala, also be due to the fact that teachers find it super exciting to be involved in the project. And now that teacher training can also take place in person, there’s a lot to be excited about.

Involving parents, including through support for better income opportunities, is another dimension of the project that is thriving again. The knitting machine is running and the oven is on:

Mongolia

Mongolians are still struggling to uncover how the coronavirus went completely wrong in just a few months. From keeping the virus in an iron grip until March this year, when there were less than 50 registered cases, the easing of restrictions and presidential elections this summer created explosive conditions for COVID-19. There are now just under 300,000 registered cases.The infection rateis slowly returning-66% of the population isfully vaccinated.

– We are in the process of distributing 1000 copies of the new parent guide along with an equal number of copies of the activity book for 5-year-olds, says Ch. Altanzul over Skype from Ulaanbaatar. Last year we only reached around three hundred 5-year-old nomadic children who cannot attend kindergarten, but this school year we are aiming to reach the target for the second year of the project.

Altanzul, who is the day-to-day manager of the project, explains that it’s quite a puzzle to get the materials distributed to the 64 rural areas across Mongolia. The Coronavirus keeps leading to lockdowns, which are now being decided by local authorities.

– Everyone lives so close in the soum centers that the local governor is afraid to react to even a single case of infectionSoum=rural district. Soum center houses administration, school and health clinic, among other things)

– This means that one case of infection linked to one student leads to immediate school closure, initially for nine days. And then teachers have to resort to online teaching of various kinds. At the same time, schools or people in the soum center cannot travel in and out of the district. That’s why we need a good old-fashioned Mongolian method of distribution.

This good old-fashioned method consists of Altanzul calling the contact person in the respective rural area and letting them know that the materials are ready. From here, the message goes to another rural contact who lives in Ulaanbaatar. This contact person calls Altanzul and arranges to pick up the materials, which are then handed over to the driver who runs the next public bus service to the rural area. And just like that, the materials are delivered to the project team in rural schools shortly after the first phone call.

But before the materials from Ulaanbaatar can be distributed to the 5-year-olds and their parents out on the steppes, the local project workers have to go to the aimag center (aimag=province, ed.) and buy all the additional materials that children and parents need to complete all the tasks in the activity books.

– Last year we bought it all in Ulaanbaatar and distributed it to the 20 or so rural areas and the almost 300 children. We can’t do that now, when we have to reach more than three times as many people in 64 districts,” says Altanzul. That’s why we’ve sent money to the local chapters and let them take care of the rest. The instructions clearly state what is needed and all materials are available at aimag centers.

– And we’ve done the same for school food services. Teachers need to talk to children and parents about what they would like to see, and then see how far the money will go. In many places, the parents are the ones who step in once they are also involved in the conversation and decision-making,” Altanzul concludes.

Nepal

Infection ratesfluctuate, but with a downward trend over the last 3-4 months. In the last week, 700-1400 daily cases have been reported. 19.5% of the population

Helambu has not only been hit hard by corona swells, but also by flooding caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains. The monsoon is now on hold and along with fewer corona cases, schools are opening and our partner Just Nepal Foundation is finally getting started with the first activities under the project BetterLife – Educating and Keeping Children Safe in Helambu

There are 34 schools and villages involved in the three-legged project. Firstly, pedagogical practices in schools need to change. Traditionally, classes are characterized by memorization. Often in a language that students don’t understand. At the same time, the relationship between school and parents needs to be strengthened. And parents must, in accordance with current legislation, have a significant influence on the operation and functioning of schools. School boards must be elected and function democratically.

It’s not just the school and teaching, but the school’s place in and interaction with the local community that needs to change. Inspiration for this complex and dynamic change strategy comes from Brazilian Paulo Freire and his ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, which has inspired progressive changes in schools in Nepal for years and in many contexts.

It is a coincidence, but a beautiful one, that it is at the same time as the 100th anniversary of Paulo Freire’s birth that we can hold the first workshops for the eight change facilitators who will be massively present in schools and villages over the next three years.

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