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Juliana Mustapha (Niger)

Covid-19 is a very scary disease. Unfounded information makes you more afraid of the disease. It was annoying because we were working from home (telecommuting) and frustrating because some people in the community didn’t take it seriously until we had cases of Covid-19 and deaths in the area.

After two weeks of voluntary confinement, I was out to go to the market and buy my mask. So I wanted to buy a mask quickly and there are none in the whole big market in my city, Zinder (Marché Dolé). Finally, I found one and the seller wants to sell it to me at 1000F wish is around 2 US Dollars or nothing, this is where I understood the reason behind why citizens have difficulty in obtaining the mask. It was not available enough and was expensive for a country like mine and especially for this city.

Being a young leader and entrepreneur, I immediately thought of how to help in this situation? We have to quickly find a solution to how to design local masks with the fabrics available to us and sell at an affordable cost (since I don’t have a way to give them to everyone). And that’s when I went to a young tailor to ask him if he can make me a mask by showing him the models I want and off we go for the test phase, we were able to make a about twenty masks that I distribute in my neighborhood especially to beggars who go door to door and to the very vulnerable while explaining to them to make the effort to wash it daily with soap (we say that well-ordered charity begins with this). These beggars served as an example for some fathers to obtain a mask for himself and his whole family.

Today, covid still exists but is not as frustrating as it was over ten months ago. Sensitizations continue and everyone is evolving in their daily activities with their face mask everywhere and trying to respect all measures as much as possible to avoid the disease. We are living with it!

(Local masks pictured made by Juliana) 

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Lebopo Bulayani (Botswana)

Not only did covid 19 change lives of entrepreneurs, depressed us, but it also made us think of ways in which we can survive and adapt to the changing times of this world hit deadly disease.For the first time in 3 years of my business operation I was forced to close down my business and wasn’t left with any choice as I knew the implications of not listening to the national order and I feel the first lockdown in Botswana was way better as we were given subsidies to keep us going despite closure of businesses. Rent pays were suspended and at least I did not have to worry about rent and my employed payments for the 1st quarter of 2020 lockdown. After a month or two we were allowed to open businesses and while we were trying to  recover a week down the line we closed again and this time around subsidies were stopped and we had to make sure we pay rent, with what ? I also didn’t have any idea but we had to make sure our business spaces are still secured. As hard as this was, I tried hard to make ends meet, made specials to try attract customers to come to the spa and only a few made it through yes with so many reasons attached to this, the main one was that we were all still confused and wanted to stay home and not be going up and down being touched by strangers though we tried by all means to abide by covid 19 protocols. Was the government subsidy too early?? Yes I would say as much as it was a reliever, this was a time when Botswana didn’t even have any death related to covid and if only the nation could have waited to assist us at a time like this it would have been better. Not only did I want to give up but this has really affected my employees as I had to cut them, some got half pays and this was not easy at all. Unlike other businesses I never shut down through all this stressful pandemic changes, I still stand and try so hard to make sure my business is still relevant, at this point we are all about if we can pay rent and employees, no profits and we really hustle to even make stock replenishment as the little savings we had covered up and it’s not gone really down. As a business and social entrepreneur both my line of market were really hit, for the 1st time in 5years I didn’t host my annual Miss Independence Kgatleng a pageant for the youth and this was a such a challenge as yes a brand has to be kept relevant and how do I do it? I then decided to come up with an initiative to ask friends and family to help with donations which we made to a home for the less privileged and orphans as well as an orphanage day care center and in this way our name is still out there and we still touch lives. This is a time when now we sit down as the youth and ask ourselves, what digital methods can we use to sustain our businesses? What can we do to remain relevant? Measures as visual pageantry and production of products for sale is what can only work for me in the future as now I see how hard it is to still Dominate in corona times.
Still I stand and hope to come out of this hard pandemic days stronger and better, to other youth out there … never give up soldier on 💪

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Mosa Chobokoane (Lesotho)

THE LIFE REIMAGINED-MY COVID-19 EXPERIENCE.

When I first learned of the Coronavirus in November 2019, I thought it so remote to us. I never foresaw myself in the midst of a complete lockdown, relentlessly praying we see another day.

It was not until I found myself paralysed with fear weeks before the first national lockdown in Lesotho, which I heavily advocated for. I was afraid for myself and my family. My mother, my sisters, my friends. The question that constantly played in my mind was, who would die first and how would the remaining people handle it, the dark imaginings of one of my sisters in a casket, or the thought of having to ask them to sit down while I expressed that we had just become orphaned, and to know that in that moment we could not comfort each other. 

I am one person who believes death is not finite and that we must embrace the time shared with our loved ones on this earth until their time of transition came. These are the same words of comfort I have been using to comfort all my friends who suffer loss at this time of apprehension, rigidity and uncertainty, where distancing yourself is the biggest show of love you can give. 

The inverse is that the pandemic gave me, a much needed break, my mental health was frayed from the tumultuous carousel called life. I have learnt to see money as a resource not a part of the self, acknowledging that troubled times are better with a full belly and the lights on.  I know that family is important, that the unconditional love shows itself when our breath is paramount not what you can spend and accomplish.

I have also suffered a lot of self-doubt, my inability to interact with people has made me believe a little less in my professional abilities, but in the same vein, I have had time to think deeply about my role in this world, who I really am and what I bring to this existence. I have learnt a few things; move forward in faith not fear, be kind to yourself, love yourself the best way you know how and to communicate it very intentionally to those who matter to you, silence and solitude is the only portal for true self-awareness. You cannot love people at your expense, it leaves you vain and bitter. If we truly believe in the human race and sing from the same book, there is a chance to salvage the human experience beyond this pandemic. Open and honest communication is the only way to forge lasting relationships using empathy, kindness and eloquence.

Covid-19 has positively impacted my personal growth and I know that world reimagined may be the world we need to propel our souls to meet the full human experience, understanding that we are one big family and that the survival of one is paramount for the survival of all. We all have a place in this world and we are indeed our brothers’ keeper.

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Mpho Mathaba (Lesotho)

Today marks two months and ten days since I completed high school; I am one of the lucky ones as they say. I recently received my final high school results and instead of thinking about the next step from here, my mind is going through how despite the difficulties, I may have been lucky after all, seeing the current state of education in this country.

Back in March 2020, the 18th day, when the prime minister first declared the country to be in a state of emergency due to the covid-19 pandemic and demanded that schools be closed immediately, the only possible outcome which my peers and I had thought of was death. We carried our heavy learning materials home scared even by the idea of a mere goodbye hug as we took pictures we thought may have been our last. We had paid no attention to the possibility of a new reality that was speeding towards us.

It was later on when we were locked in our houses, stuck on our electronic gadgets to keep our learning process going, ALIVE, that it dawned to most of us that it is not catching the virus and dying that should have scared us but rather how we were going to adapt to the unusual way of survival for the sake of our own future.

Online learning was challenging and for a while there, I might have thrown in the towel and such a narrative was not only mine. Having to change from a classroom whose only disruptions were some little raucous my classmates created to trying to listen to recordings of my teachers which made me more sleepy than anything between my parents’ loud conversing was all just not working. I was tired before one online lesson could reach its half because of the late night hours I spent trying to go through one document of notes and struggling to edit an assignment. My courage was not promising at all, especially when I was not even certain if I would sit for examinations.

Now, it is over for me, even if it is just for a while. I did sit for my exams and I get to shed some tears because I did very well not because I am the middle of a class where I can barely keep up as I try to complete an assignment that is due in less than an hour so I feel on the verge of quitting. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones after all.

I have spent more time with my parents who are teachers in the past year than I have ever before but how long is it supposed to go on? What happens to the children they are supposed to be working with, who have not even the resources to learn online?

Now that my own woes have gone to rest, I keep thinking of what will happen to my sisters and brothers who may have not been as fortunate as I am. For me, it was a matter of no prom but for them, it means no exams. So we wait, for a sign of hope that will get the education of this country going on but even then, how we are to keep up remains a mystery.

16 year old Mpho Mathaba from Mokhotlong, Lesotho graduated high school and completed her IGCSE Exams with five A pluses and three A’s from Soofia International School. All this, against terrifying odds. 

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Idris Ola (Nigeria)

Riding Against The Pandemic Tide; A Short glimpse through the eyes of a Lagos doctor

Throughout my medical training, we were constantly reminded that our training was next to the soldiers in terms of rigor. More than ever before, I had the real feel of what it means to be a soldier at the battlefront, only this time, we had stethoscopes, not AK47.

News filtered in early January 2020 of the new coronavirus disease that was spreading fast. The only certain thing about the disease was its behavioral uncertainty.

Given the high traffic between the UK and Nigeria, we knew it was only a matter of time before we joined the global list of affected countries. On February 22nd, the dreaded announcement was made, coronavirus was here. It felt like we were being deployed to the battlefront. Despite the dangers lurking ahead, forward-march was the only order. While we mentally brace for the challenge, revised all our protocols and came up with new ones to ensure infectious control and staff safety, we realized that the most needed tools were either hitherto lacking or in short supply. Our hospital in Lagos is notorious for high daily patient traffic, and within 3 days, the hospital’s facemask stock was depleted. Face masks and gloves had become scarce and expensive, thus the hospital management offered to make cloth masks which was roundly rejected by staffs. There were no standard personal protective equipment (PPE). At a time, I had my own improvised PPE made from a cocktail of head cover, googles, long and thick clinical coat, and facemask (which I procured on my own). I looked like a masquerade or perhaps a tall man heavily-clad in halloween costume.

During other medical emergencies, it becomes especially problematic. The doctor spirit in us usually will not allow us to take extreme precautions when a life is on the line. On such audacious evenings at the peak of the coronavirus pandemonium, a pregnant woman was rushed in at 36 weeks gestation, with imminent eclampsia; an immediate life-threatening condition. It was after the danger was averted that I became conscious of the possibility of the woman carrying the virus. But saving her life gave me more fulfillment than the anxiety of coronavirus.

Driving through the city during lockdown was not without its risks. Both the children of the street and children on the street who depended on daily earnings were deprived and frustrated. Sometimes I pay to drive through their roadblocks, other times, they show lots of respect, being a doctor working in that extreme situation.

By middle of May, 7 doctors and 6 Nurses in my center had tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of us were hoping on luck and doing all we could to keep safe. Luckily, no mortality was recorded.

In late May, I volunteered for Lagos State COVID-19 Response Team to work full-time in isolation centers, although unavailability of accommodation at the time stalled my deployment.

The risk remains high, but with our doggedness, we will see the end of this. The onset of the new wave and strain of the virus in Nigeria has reminded us to not let our guards down yet, but with development of the coronavirus vaccine, a new light is shining at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

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Thato Chobokoane (Lesotho)

From Ireland to Lesotho During a Pandemic

As my flight did a descent into the Mountain Kingdom, I was quickly disillusioned by how missing home had caused me to romanticize the place. I dreamt of the dreamy lush, green valleys I would be coming home to. I dreamt of the waterfalls and lakes and saw so vividly the herd boys chasing fattened cows and their calves across open fields. My people are known for being people of peace and I had imagined our women with bright eyes and wide smiles, walking from village to village with babies strapped to their backs and firewood on their heads, despite that being the stark mark of underdevelopment which did not match my romantic notions of my homeland. In reality, red dust blew atop newly erected corrugated iron make-shift supermarkets and take-away restaurants, carrying with it discarded plastic and paper. Empty glass bottles littered the sides of the roads like sad little children waiting for neglectful parents that would never come.

Ireland had furnished my mind with an education and my body found comfort in their lands at the start of a global pandemic. I appreciated fully the comforts of the first world which social media made me starkly aware that my fellow Africans in Africa were not enjoying. Public transport in Ireland allowed for social distancing, shops were controlled, personal protective equipment was easily accessible and most importantly, information on the Coronavirus and testing was widely available so the public acted accordingly to protect themselves and their communities.  

As the world grew into a bigger crisis and the ripples of trauma from Wuhan to Ireland, to the world, to Africa as well as my homeland surged seemingly unabated, my soul grew restless. This was not made any easier by reports of police and military brutality against the public who congregated despite the national lockdown imposed by country’s government. Hardship is so easily forgotten and while in my first world cocoon, I could not reconcile how any government would let the battering of its people come to pass; an understanding lost to me for it conflicted with my romantic notions of my homeland – the nation of peace. If I had been true to myself, I would have remembered that my government, led by mediocrity, would not disseminate enough information on Coronavirus to make available to the public. On the throat of our nation, the firm grip of alcoholism reared its ugly head to be greeted by a nationwide alcohol ban. 

Now I am back home, post disillusionment, post reverse culture shock, unemployed and in an economic crisis and on the face of it, the story of the world fails to be hinged on hope. The story of this Kingdom has shattered my rose tinted glasses. It is a friend from high school, the parent of friend, a neighbour, a relative or someone I never knew, all gone under the new administration of Coronavirus; the dictator which punishes disobedience with death. Graveyards are still not at capacity and graves still have not lined up the roadsides as promised by Lesotho’s government in April of 2020. Perhaps that is our hope although reports state that mortuaries are currently overflowing. As I click through social media pages and note the crowds that come together to celebrate life in confined spaces; friends sharing drinks, hugs and kisses, I see all hope fade. Their music, joy and laughter is drowned by the current news headlines of a second wave of the Coronavirus and the spreading of a new virus with a mutation. The only certainty is that this too shall pass and that is what gives me hope.

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Sadio Sogoba (Mali)

Covid-19 in Koutiala

It all began as a story, people were talking about it as a new illness but it sounded very far away. Some people said that the virus of Covid-19 doesn’t survive the temperature of Mali and some other people even said that it wasn’t a sickness for Muslims.  And one bad day we learned from the news that a Malian lady living in France had brought the disease in Bamako. A few days later there were other positive cases of Covid-19 and then it kept spreading.

 And finally the president announced the nationwide lockdown and the curfew to contain the spread of the virus. Schools, restaurants and bars were closed. I put myself and my 8 year old daughter in confinement for 3 days. My friends and colleagues would come in the afternoon as they used to for tea and to chat but I wouldn’t open. After 3 days of locking myself in I was tired. I open the door and I set a hand washing kit at the entrance. People visiting should wash their hands with soap and we would respect distancing. The curfew was from 9 PM to 5 AM. After a few weeks there were riots in Koutiala. People were fed up with the curfew, especially the youth. For 2 nights there were riots all over Koutiala. People burning tires on the roads blocking traffic, stoning police cars and even burned down a police station. But in the other hand, many married women were happy with the curfew and wished it continues because their husband finally stayed at home and can’t go out at night for who knows.

As a teacher in one of the teachers’ training Institutes, I was perplexed; I didn’t know what to do to help my students! They would call and ask me what to do. Finally we came up with the idea of creating a WhatsApp group with the class and discuss class topics via it. But after two weeks I couldn’t afford buying the units for internet connexion so we quit. Meanwhile the government started online courses. They would teach through national TV. Many students didn’t find this interesting because they couldn’t interact with the teacher. Thanks to my friend Tim Burroughs ( Souleymane Koné in Mali), a return Peace Corps Volunteer, we were able to establish a sustainable Wifi connection and come back to our classroom activities on WhatsApp.

When we went back to school after the confinement, we were told the distancing would be respected as well as all the preventing measures but I wasn’t surprised to find my students ( 49 students in the classroom) sitting the same way they used to sit before. The first 2 days they were wearing masks and would wash their hands with soap and then used hand sanitizer but after a few days they would put the mask in their pocket and sat close to each other. Even though I encouraged them to respect the preventive measures, they were reluctant to do so knowing that many parents didn’t believe in the illness and said it was a plot. Some of the preventive measures are a challenge in a Malian environment, such as not shaking hands. Hand shaking is very important in the culture here and not shaking hands is suspect. It’s another challenge to avoid going out in public, knowing that marriages, naming ceremonies, funerals can sometimes gather hundreds of people and your presence is socially mandatory. Distancing is also a problem, for students from extended families it means nothing because they would go back home at the end of the day and be with more than 10 -15 people in the same family. I didn’t know how to help with all of this. It is a horrible feeling to feel helpless for your students. 

The Covid-19 pandemic changed my perspectives and made me reconsider my priorities about life.

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Lily Mugane (Kenya)

Lily is a wife and mum to 2 girls and 1 boy residing in Nairobi, Kenya. I am an engineer by training currently working as a project finance professional in the telecoms industry. My typical day revolves around my family, work and volunteer opportunities all around me.

Covid 19 came and made everyone rethink their lives.

For me, my office transitioned to full time working from home where the family is. It was initially a challenge balancing between being a mum, wife, employer, employee, friend and all the hats that I wear. The most difficult thing was transitioning between work & family which typically transit time between home & office offers. Now I had to get used to mum calls in between meetings & make the switch in seconds, guide on school assignments in between work action points, slot in volunteer hours in the hours at home and take care of the caregivers around since given the change of their employer being around 24hours 😊 To be sincere though, I feel there has been lots of family bonding and productive meetings as commute time is eliminated. The children have a better understanding on work and earning money as they are now full time at home and sees what we do on a daily basis. They have explored their interests more during this time and have bonded a lot. We have all have learnt to take a day and task at a time.

I volunteer with a down syndrome support organization called T21 Families Support Organisation (https://t21familieske.org/) and this too had to be factored in the changes. More virtual calls have been taken up and since family is around, they have been part of the conversations whether willingly or unwillingly. It is normal to hear “Shhh..mum is in a meeting” and lots of mute & unmute in the calls as different tasks are being handled. Some challenges seen in the down syndrome community have been: 1. Many children are not attending therapy as a result of stay home orders, therapists not coming around 2. Many children not going to school or meeting with teachers and this could be regressive especially if they do not have siblings 3. Some kids didn’t get routine checkups done due to doctor strikes and limited personnel and fear of infection 4. Corrective surgeries postponed; I know two babies lives lost since they couldn’t go to India. 5. Social interaction between mums or caregivers limited resulting to emotional fatigue

In a nutshell, there has been lots of positives and negatives too. I choose to focus on the positives and work at turning the negatives to positives through reaching out for collaborations, shared experiences & interpersonal support.

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Fati Mahmoud Wattigi (Ghana)

Being a Muslim has taught me to give thanks to God in every situation, being it good or bad. Though I didn’t have expectations, I was always saying 2020 will be my year. This year looked good when it started until the fear of the unknown set in my mind due to covid 19. I had earlier won a scholarship which was postponed to the next year.

My country started recording covid19 cases and the capital where I live went on a lockdown but I had to go to work throughout because I’m an essential worker amidst trying to help some people in my community get food supplies for the lockdown period.

My colleagues and clients started testing positive to covid 19 and their units were shut down while they went on quarantine. This made me so afraid of going to work since my parents are old with underlining health issues, I feared I might bring the disease home.

I then took a 7 week vacation from work. Not until the 5th week before I was called back to work and given an appointment as a manager to my facility and the appointment was based on an interview I went for, in the beginning of the year. I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t feel ready for the position but as all my leadership training taught me that the first step of being a leader, is to accept that you are one or can be one. I resumed work immediately.

After some months I went for another interview at work which was a promotional interview and my rank and title changed. In all these, I would say 2020 brought its own grievances and challenges but for me it changed my life in other amazing ways.

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Kevin Gnagne (Côte d’Ivoire )

When the pandemic began to hit our country, and the number of cases of Covid 19 began to increase, the city of Abidjan by order of the authorities came into confinement and was isolated from the rest of the country in order to stop the progression of the virus. We have also witnessed the establishment of an emergency plan of several billion FCFA to help fight against the spread of the pandemic but also to help the private sector which has been severely affected by this crisis. Several people have lost their jobs because of this health crisis. We also noticed that there was a lot of fake news circulating and pushing a certain branch of the population to disregard the measured barriers put in place for the fight against the pandemic. So with the members of the Mandela Washington Fellows 2019 cohort, we took action to help the fight against the spread of this pandemic in Côte d’Ivoire. We made an awareness video to promote barrier gestures. We have also distributed hand gels and nose covers to carriers in order to fight this pandemic. This pandemic has prompted us to change our habits, both professional and social. We discovered that working from home doable, zoom-meetings were effective where public gatherings were banned. We were able to see the adaptability of the human being to all situations. We also realized with this crisis that victory over any situation requires the unity and commitment of all and that personal interests can be the cause of perdition.