By Marieke van Woudenberg
When people started to get sick in Tajikistan, the government had not officially announced that COVID-19 was in the country. As a result many things were uncertain. Operation Mercy staff in Tajikistan started to discuss among themselves what was the best way to go, and it was decided to initiate an education project among their already existing project participants and beneficiaries. This education project had the purpose of spreading awareness about COVID-19 and informing participants how to prevent getting COVID-19.
Other COVID-19 responses were put in place ‘on request’. Meaning, the four location branches of the Tajikistan office, which were the Dushanbe, Khujand, Isfara, and Khorog branch, each got a certain amount of money, of which was said that people could use that upon request. Staff from these different branches received requests from either social workers, or from partnering NGO’s or from medical points, which initiated the food package and distribution projects. This was also a way for Operation Mercy in Tajikistan to include leaders of the community as they know best who the most needy within a community is.
In March and the beginning of April 2020, Operation Mercy in Tajikistan implemented their COVID-19 education response. The staff started doing their own research, gathered pamphlets and poster from the local WHO office about their COVID-19 guidelines, and used a PowerPoint presentation to give COVID-19 trainings. Moreover, as some sort of qualification or certificate is necessary when wanting to facilitate a lesson on a certain topic, some of the local staff took online courses about COVID-19.
The COVID-19 training itself was given by local staff members in Tajikistan and included topics such as hand washing, cleaning the house, eating healthy food, isolating at home and wearing masks. The trainings were held at eight different venues with a total attendance of 123 people, existing of participants and beneficiaries from previous education initiatives. Furthermore, people with a visual disability were included as the staff made a little model of the COVID-19 virus which they could feel, with sterilized hands. The participants of this educational training received a hygiene kit, which included a 100 ml bottle of antiseptic, soap, two fabric masks, a brochure about washing hands, and some additional information about COVID-19.
Later, when most Tajik people had to stay home due to restrictions, including the Operation Mercy office, the staff phoned 42 of the educational participants and asked about their physical and psychological wellbeing. The participants valued the phone calls as they felt cared for and not forgotten. A local staff member who had called with some of the participants said, “Mostly we gave them psychosocial support, we gave them time to speak up about their feelings and emotions, they just needed someone to listen to them about their challenges and difficulties, not only the physical ones but emotionally as well.”
Furthermore, a survey was conducted about what had been useful in the lessons and who they had shared things with. The reaction of participants regarding the training were very positive. Since participants were taught a Tajik song about washing hands, one of them said that they used the song to motivate their children to wash their hands. Another participant put up the picture of how to wash hands properly at her home and taught her son the proper handwashing method. And one participant reported the relief she felt when she understood that it is possible to prevent COVID-19 and that many people recover and not everyone dies.
During the training the participants had been encouraged to share the information with others and 42 people shared with a estimate of 580 people directly. Two participants shared what they had learned to a wider audience on the radio.
Food packagesThis project was implemented in May 2020, when many people had to stay at home and lost their income or jobs due to COVID-19 restrictions.
As earlier mentioned, this project was initiated and also implemented on request. At this time the Operation Mercy office in Tajikistan was low on staff for various reasons. Therefore, the staff decided ask their partner organizations which people needed food packages the most, which meant that the partners were the ones who decided how many packages were needed and to whom it would be delivered to.
The food packages included, food, masks, sanitizers, soap and some information about COVID-19 and how to prevent it. Moreover, some food packages were altered to fit the needs of the beneficiaries. E.g., packages for people with diabetes included products fitting that condition.
The project of equipment distribution was initiated when local medical points approached Operation Mercy in Tajikistan and asked if there was a possibility to get products like masks, sanitizers, gloves and other hygiene-related products to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These medical points are very small, it is not seen as a clinic as there might not be a doctor present, only a few experienced nurses. These points rarely receive necessary equipment. In total, Operation Mercy distributed to around 15 of these medical points.
The Operation Mercy office was approached by the Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MoHSP). They requested materials such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPEs include a jumpsuit, googles, gloves, and a respirator mask with a filter. Operation Mercy in Tajikistan provided these PPEs and through the MoHSP the staff also go to distribute equipment to boarding schools and schools for children with visual impairments. In total, 41 PPEs went to Karabolo hospital through the MoHSP and 13 PPEs to Rudaki District Social Workers.