“Now everything is different. Everything changed in one instant. My dad lost his job, they suspended school and all the activities we planned with friends were cancelled” Oliver, 15 years old, Guatemala.
Overnight COVID-19 changed the reality of people around the world. Going to work, buying food, attending school and socialising with friends and family outside the household were no longer possible. Whilst necessary to keep everyone healthy and safe, these restrictions are also having far-reaching consequences on our day to day lives.
To better understand how COVID-19 is impacting on rural communities, and some of the ways in which we can help support them, we asked young people about their experience and how they are coping during the crisis.
Schooling at home
Due to COVID-19, the Government of Guatemala had no choice but to close schools to keep children and their families healthy and safe. It is estimated that over 4 million students are affected by the school closures in Guatemala.
Oliver, 15 years old, shared: ”It is difficult to continue our studies online. It is not the same as when you study together with your friends and teacher and share positive moments together. Now our teacher provides us with task online, we download them, we do our tasks and send them back to our teacher. It is a great help for us to be able to continue studying”.
To support students to continue their studies while the schools are closed, the Ministry of Education has launched the initiative ‘Learning from home’. Through national TV and radio channels students are guided on learning from home through their schoolwork. For those able to access internet, the Ministry of Education has also set up an online learning platform. For children and young people who were vulnerable to child labour in the areas where ECLT works, we are working with Defensa de Ninos y Ninas Internacional – Costa Rica, to provide families and teachers with enough internet data to access lessons online.
Several students noted that it takes time to adjust to this new way of learning online. An important lesson learned has been the role of teachers to continue to motivate the students to keep up the good work and spirit and to provide guidance on the specific tasks.
Ana, 15 years old, explained that: ”Now it is more difficult to do my homework. In this area the signal for the phone is limited, and it is difficult to get access to all the documents we need. It is difficult to do the homework through the internet.”
The students are adapting as best as possible to their new school routine but the impact of COVID-19 and its restrictions go beyond education. We also heard that many of the children’s parents lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet as a result.
“The most difficult moment was when the president decided to close down Guatemala. My dad lost his job and since our financial means are very limited, we don’t have enough money to cover our daily consumption” added Oliver.
Many families and farmers in rural areas around the world often have incomes which are unstable and unpredictable depending of yield and harvest making them particularly vulnerable to a financial crisis. Loss of livelihood, school closures, restrictions on travel, social distancing and sickness inevitably affect the livelihoods and the well-being of these families.
Interventions to support communities during COVID-19 need to take into account the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic in terms of health but also on livelihoods, access to decent work and child labour. In Guatemala, ECLT is adapting programmes to the evolving economic and social contexts. In addition to supporting online class attendance, ECLT is providing 150 households with seeds, specific instructions on how to grow them in order to strengthen food safety and security. To keep up good hygiene measures, ECLT has also distributed anti-bacterial soap to 250 families and is working with DNI to distribute printed and online materials to raise awareness on COVID-19 prevention, symptoms and what to do if you suspect you might have it.
In the long term, it is important to continue to support rural communities and families who have suffered income losses due to the pandemic to ensure that children can return to school, keeping away from harmful work.
The COVID-19 outbreak has shown how the digital divide can have a real impact on access to education at times of crisis. Investing in increasing access to electricity and internet in rural areas, (re)training teachers and learners in basic ICT skills, developing online learning material and digital resources, investing in telecommunications infrastructure and building systems with strong offline functionalities are just some ways in which Governments can ensure that education in rural areas continues. For more information about priorities for rural education ahead, read our article here.
Supporting farmers and rural livelihoods is also a critical piece of the puzzle. Working with farmers associations to support small-holder farmers to get their produce to market, sharing recommendations on COVID-19 protection in the workplace, and finally supporting the financial resiliency of rural workers can help ensure food security, livelihoods and education.
Diego shared with us a final and important lesson learned: “One positive thing is that we learned to be united despite of the distance”.