For so many of us around the world, we have been faced with unprecedented challenges in a turbulent and scary time as we enter the fifth month of the global pandemic, COVID-19. Our work in Upper West Ghana was immediately threatened when the cases of Coronavirus intensified in the UK and began to spread across Ghana, just two months ago.
Today we are pleased to share our COVID-19 Response Timeline.
In March this year, the UK and Ghana joined the world stage in the COVID-19 epidemic, known as Coronavirus, which rocked societies, health care systems, communities, and to equal value – our organisation.
With immediate effect we called a series of emergency meetings across the organisation, to discuss the situation and options available to us at the time. As COVID-19 cases increased in both countries, ATE staff continued to stay updated with the news of the spread locally, nationally and globally. As an international staff team, we increased our communication channels to ensure the continued discussions, assessments and agile planning.
Following UK government advice, we closed our UK Office in Ramsbury and all UK staff transitioned to working from home. Our fundraising events and activities were all cancelled. Shortly after, we made the decision to close the Inclusion Centre in Ghana to ensure the safety of our staff and the deterrence of social gathering activities in Lawra. We supported all staff to work from home and all stayed connected through frequent communications.
ATE Activities Affected
As schools in Ghana closed as a nationwide safety measure, the first programme to be affected was EducATE. Our flagship programme provides vital daily school meals across our seven partner schools to tackle the barrier of hunger for many children across Lawra.
Our monthly small business training was postponed and soon to follow was the cancellation of our twice weekly SNAP Play Scheme. All ATE fundraising events and activities were cancelled; as talks, events, presentations, and such were deemed as unsafe.
The negative effects of the epidemic continued like dominos, yet if we remained still in these times, thousands of vulnerable people across Lawra would be severely impacted by the withdrawal of ATE support and interventions. Our staff would be at risk of losing their critical employment in the community, often as the only income generator of their household.
Our ATE Response and Successes: Overall
All of us at ATE are delighted to share our updates during these still uncertain times, owing all of our successes to our incredible, dynamic team and altruistic, wonderful supporters!
Making strategic decisions aligning with our core mission to reduce poverty across Upper West Ghana – our first priority was to keep all of our staff in the UK and Ghana in employment. With 4 UK staff members and 30 Ghana based staff; we have adapted our working styles and provided ongoing training and support to keep everyone employed, feeling safe and secure.
Our 21 cooks, who are at the heart of our school feeding programme across 7 schools usually work each day to provide nutritious and vital meals to school children in the centre of Lawra and rural areas. As the schools closed, our cooks were left with an insecurity around their employment and future, as they are left without work or alternatives to earn an income. However, each cook has received continued support from ATE, with regular visits in-country, reassured their salaries and future work will continue.
Our ATE Response and Successes: Ghana Staff
Whilst we all rush to adapt to remote working and lean on our digital and technical skills, our Ghana team have been faced with an alien task to work from home. Lawra is a highly remote area with limited connectivity and low employment rates; where much work is carried out in petty trade, agriculture, teaching and healthcare.
We have provided ongoing digital skills training to our Ghana team and made the organisational switch to use collaborative tools that keep us, as an international team, engaged and connected. We have built the capacity of each staff member to enable remote working in Ghana in addition to the UK- assisting with learning and using new digital tools that help to plan and report.
All staff continue to remain employed, with no issues in attendance or productivity as our core staff continue to operate from home and attend meetings online.
Our ATE Response and Successes: Emergency Response
Prior to COVID-19, our work in Lawra was essential. As the epidemic has spread across Ghana, the realities for many have worsened, making our work even more important and requiring a responsive approach to our work.
Our SNAP families continue to struggle to access healthcare and other forms of support as children with disabilities face discrimination continuously. Our school children, who are dependent on the ATE provided school meal, now go without while schools remain closed. Small Business Owners either close their business doors due to no custom or risk their safety to continue to trade.
We have ensured we are responding to these growing challenges in dynamic, agile and community centred ways – assuring we provide support to those immediately as challenges arrive or before they even happen.
1: Staff Protection & Preparation
Our first emergency response project has been to equip our team in Ghana with the necessary information, education and tools to remain safe and protected amidst the threat of COVID-19. All staff have been provided with educational resources, safer working guidelines and remote working resources and tools.
We have equipped all of our Ghana team members with their own staff hygiene pack containing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to use and keep throughout.
We have provided each staff member with increased data and credit to assist our staff in communicating with each other, ATE staff and most importantly community members and family members during this crisis. Data and connectivity is something we often take for granted in the UK, but is often a lifeline for our staff and community members in Ghana.
Through training Small Business Owners and providing all start-up costs, we have made 790 handmade protective masks for our staff, beneficiaries, and community members due to the scarce availability of protective equipment across the Upper West region.
We continue to dynamically risk assess our projects to keep our frontline staff as protected as possible during this time.
2: Aid Distribution & Support to Lawra’s Forgotten/ Most Vulnerable
As our SNAP activities are currently postponed, the needs of our members have not.
Our SNAP team have continued to provide vital support to families and children with disabilities and severe health conditions.
We have provided WASH demonstrations and food and soap parcels to over 250 families across Lawra, with a child with a disability of health condition.
We have continued to register health insurance for our members as the Ghana National Health Service have converted to mobile services during this time.
We know the barriers that many of these families face when accessing healthcare for their vulnerable child- we continue to do all we can to remove these barriers in a time that has never mattered more.
3: Continued Small Business Support
As lockdowns have taken effect across Ghana, affecting supply chains, many Lawra based businesses will lose custom and income during this time.
Our BizATE mentors have continued their world class business mentorship and monitoring, practicing and role modelling social distancing in their visit and sensitising their business mentees.
Where this is not possible, our team have transitioned to remote mentorship and monitoring. This enables our mentors to continue vital business mentorship remotely from their homes for our small business owners and dry season gardeners.
We continue to monitor this situation and have adapted our mentoring to suggest ways our business owners remain resilient, adaptable and ideally keep their business active where possible.
- Rural Emergency Support
A hard-hitting reality of this epidemic has left hundreds of school children across remote areas in Lawra, without schooling and therefore an ATE provided meal for the day. Our staff have learned some children are started to make the unsafe migration to the south, in the hope of getting small income; making the unsafe and extremely high risk journey across the country.
To prevent this and potential rural famine, our team have begun to purchase and distribute food and hygiene parcels to all rural school children across our four rural hubs.
We are providing a substantial amount of long-life food options to hopefully stave off food challenges in the home for these children.
Our ATE Response and Successes: Emergency Fundraising Plan
None of this would be possible without the outpouring of support from our incredible donors, supporters and friends.
Since our UK team in launched our Emergency Appeal at the end of March, we have reached two thirds of our target in such a short space of time. This enables us to keep our staff employed and carry out our emergency response activities.
Whilst we, like all organisations, continue to battle through these very unsettling and uncertain times, we couldn’t be more thankful to our supporter base for enabling us to keep working to help those who still need us, now more than ever. As our staff continue to be flexible and adaptable and we continue to respond accordingly to the needs across Lawra – our vital work continues to tackle poverty in Upper West Ghana, doing all we can to in these critical times.
You can support this work by donating to our Emergency Appeal here.
By Jessica Cruse, Director of Operations