My (Our) Contribution to the fight against COVID-19 : The Humming Bird Way

Photo of a Hummingbird By Jay Warburton — CC BY 3.0

Mid-March 2020 and suddenly it feels like the world is coming to a stop or if it isn’t it soon will be the case. I had barely caught my breath after a gruelling teeth extraction procedure earlier on in the month and also settling into the excitement of the Women’s day award I had received. Turns out, life doesn’t stay put because we have things and emotions to figure out. Also, it happens that this thinking process would be put to test in the next few weeks to come — pandemics/emergencies really don’t wait for you to figure things out. During that period, I came across one of the speeches by the World Health Organization(WHO) Executive Director, Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Michael J.Ryan which reinforced this thinking. He said in context of the lessons learnt while making decisions during disease outbreaks/emergencies, “…the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralyzed by the fear of failure…”

The first case of COVID-19 in Kenya was confirmed and announced by the Ministry of Health on 12th March, 2020. From then on, a lot of things happened almost in quick succession. For instance by 15th March, the president announced that all schools and learning institutions should be closed immediately and gave out the phased approach on how this should happen within the week. Since I work in a boarding high school I knew that this was going to affect me and my colleagues directly. The immediate worry was what’s going to happen to us? will we continue working, especially the non-teaching staff? How do we go about working from home? How long will this situation last? What will happen to the candidates sitting their final exams? Will I get infected, my family, friends , colleagues, neighbours?

My initial reaction was to be calm and logical- logical in this case was using all my environmental health knowledge on epidemics (disease outbreaks), behaviour change communication , sanitation and hygiene…I began thinking about the Ebola outbreak that West Africa experienced in 2014 onwards and what they learnt, what they did. I began reading and sharing about their experience. Most countries did overcome it — that was the hopeful sense in which I lived through the first two weeks after the first case was confirmed in Kenya. Turns out that was adrenaline, driven by the need to do something and wading off the feeling of helplessness. Week three, news about people I know having lost someone to COVID-19 started streaming in, people’s jobs and incomes being affected, people in quarantine, it was all becoming too close and too real. I switched off. I couldn’t stand the press briefings, Twitter became too much for me especially because of its nature of second by second updates. It turns out this is also okay during such uncertain times — the feeling of being unsure, overwhelmed, the feeling of helplessness.

One morning I remembered that I used to feel a lot better when I engage in physical exercises, running, yoga and related activities. I had a pretty consistent schedule before I fell ill late February/Early March. I summoned my inner strength and gave myself a pep talk to revive this routine. I told myself, start small, a short run, some few jumping jacks and press-ups and soon you will be up and running. I did begin some physical exercises and I started to feel a bit more in control of the thoughts of helplessness. As a result of this good mental space I was in, I started looking for ways to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.

A screenshot from my phone after a morning run

On LinkedIn one of the contacts I follow shared that the WHO has some free online courses on its site for public health care professionals and clinicians on different topics to help respond to health emergencies such as COVID-19. Since my current practice is on occupational health and safety — as a branch in environmental health, protection of workers is at the centre of my work and I was looking to see what knowledge I need for this purpose. I scanned through the courses offered, signed up on the site and started one of them. So far I have completed the one on “Infection Prevention and Control(IPC) for novel coronavirus(COVID-19). The principles therein really apply to any other infectious diseases and was very useful in putting in place ‘return to work protocols’. I shared about this wonderful resource on my LinkedIn page and also with my colleagues in clinical practice.

Within the same period I was also quite active in various professional social media groups, notably WhatsApp and Telegram. The public health officers were drafting key environmental health COVID-19 indicators for use throughout the country, the OSHAfrica group consisting of health and safety practitioners from Africa were drafting policy documents on return to work /post-covid-19 considerations. I made some contributions to the drafting of these documents mainly focusing on my experience of working in school and also the key role of behaviour change communication in fighting this pandemic.

Never have I seen so many webinar invites in my adult working life like I have witnessed during this period. Working remotely or attending meetings remotely wasn’t quite new to me since I have been doing this with the opportunities Mozilla Foundation has afforded me from time to time. See, for Mozilla, their core mission is to keep the internet open hence over the years they equipped their staff and community members like myself with knowledge on collaboration tools to conduct work and meetings remotely. To this end, video applications like Zoom and the ethics around attending webinars was not a new phenomenon to me. I managed to sign up for a few webinars including one coordinated by the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) and another by the International Labour Organization(ILO) which were scheduled during the annual world health and safety at work day on 28th April. These webinars brought together experts from different countries , representing different agencies sharing their experiences in fighting the pandemic and also what tools and information are available to professionals for use in their countries. For example it is in the AUDA webinar that I learnt that Africa CDC has been at the centre of coordinating preparedness to handle COVID-19 for the African Union member states and that there is a continent wide strategy whose two main goals are; to prevent severe illness and death and minimizing social and economic disruptions as a consequence of COVID-19 in the African continent. I was also able to attend alongside my colleague, a nurse, another webinar coordinated by WHO where UNICEF and other researchers from Europe were able to share considerations that need to be made specifically for reopening schools. It was quite eye-opening providing us with the overall thinking process schools need to have , including looking out for marginalized children whom the pandemic may have affected to the extent of not being able to resume their studies, psycho-social support for those children who may have lost their loved ones.

All these activities have been quite useful so far in helping me appreciate my role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic . It has also jolted me to begin collaborating with some of my colleagues to prepare procedures and guidelines that the workplace will need to implement in case we need to return to work. These guidelines are all encompassing from infectious waste management, distribution and use of personal protective equipment, risk communication, risk assessments for various activities, infection prevention and control measures to be deployed including training for cleaners.

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize once gave an anecdote about making your contribution the humming bird way — with the key message being however insignificant or small you may seem, doing the best you can , with whatever you have when faced with a challenge, it counts for something. Talking to my colleagues, two women, I realized that they went through the same emotional cycle when the pandemic started. Miriam Nyokabi, a communications professional, figured that her hummingbird contribution was to print for us some flyers on hand washing and information on COVID-19 so that we can put them up in our residential flats , sharing the information with our neighbours.

Eunice Maridany on the other hand, a cohort 3 METIS fellow took part in the METIS community initiative of providing home learning booklets for students in nursery, primary and secondary schools around the country. She coordinated the delivery and distribution of some of the booklets in her home village in Kipkelion, Kericho with the help of her mother and niece. It is in these small acts, that we are doing individually and collectively that will in the end count for something in our fight against the novel coronavirus(covid-19) pandemic.

A copy of one of the home learning guides co- created by the METIS community

Go on, and be a hummingbird — do the best you can!



Educator|| Social and internet Justice enthusiast||Multidisciplinary scholar||- Currently churning out knowledge in occupational health|| Mozilla contributor.

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Winnie Rabera

Educator|| Social and internet Justice enthusiast||Multidisciplinary scholar||- Currently churning out knowledge in occupational health|| Mozilla contributor.