This has been a long and difficult summer since the coronavirus upended everything, not only for CRP but for everyone in Jordan and in the world. I have been with CRP for nearly two years as the Partnerships and Grants Officer. Since April, I work from home. I really miss the community and the atmosphere of the CRP community centers. It used to be that CRP served a vegetarian meal to all of the staff, interns, and volunteers working every day, and I miss the camaraderie of the entire team that was fostered at the CRP lunch table.
The work I do is supported by a team of grant writing interns who are volunteers and who work on their own schedules about 15-25 hours a week. Heading into the “fall semester” of 2020, I will have a team of 4 people working with me on the grants team. At the moment, two are in Jordan and two are working remotely from abroad.
CRP is a nimble organization and we have been able to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. The dedication and professionalism of all the CRP staff is truly to be commended. The Emergency Assistance team members are our front line to the disenfranchised communities we serve. They are making more than 500 calls every month to keep in contact with vulnerable community members, share information, and keep people informed about the schedule and cycle of assistance that CRP may provide. This high level of interaction since the pandemic began has greatly enhanced trust and transparency between CRP, the community we serve, and our partner organizations.
What has been most challenging, in my opinion, is how we keep going despite the fact that our dynamic community centers have been closed for most of this time. The coronavirus is pushing us, as it has other institutions, to rethink how we reach our community and how we can safely engage with them. All of our program staff have been tireless in their efforts to maintain dynamic and contact with our community. They were able to adapt to online programs within one month of the community centers. It is truly commendable.
Nearly six months since the pandemic began, we have successfully moved most of our established groups and programs to remote platforms such as Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp. But distance education through online channels faces significant barriers: Not everyone has an internet-enabled device for communication and learning.
Since April, the Emergency Assistance Team has been surveying the households we reach with cash assistance or food vouchers to explore this, asking “Do you have internet in your home or access to WiFi nearby?” What was found was that about ⅓ say “yes,” they have internet at home or nearby, and that another ⅓ have internet access some of the time through their phones and the 3G mobile network, but that they lose access when their prepaid phone credit expires, and cannot easily afford to replenish it. Finally, the last ⅓ say “no” that they don’t have internet at home, don’t have WiFi access nearby, and don’t have a phone or a phone plan that supports internet access. Because of the shift to online learning, we are currently most concerned about the ⅓ of our community that do not have any access to the internet at home.
A recent UNDP and UNHCR rapid assessment revealed that while three quarters of vulnerable households across Jordan had at least one internet enabled phone, fewer than 15% had a computer, a laptop or a tablet in the home to support remote work or to facilitate children’s access to education online.
It unfortunately appears as though the coronavirus pandemic is going to continue disrupt our lives well into the coming year. CRP has to continue to develop our education, skill building and psychosocial programs online, so that this fall and winter we can offer a hybrid of in-person and online outreach. The challenge before me and my grants team now is how to pay for the purchase or rental of internet-enabled devices (like tablets) that can be loaned out to our community members, or at the minimum to the households with adults or children actively enrolled and engaged in our programs. Sharing technology and access to the internet with our community will help us overcome the “digital divide” in society that separates those who have access and know how to use technology and those who do not have access and do not know how to use these tools.
CRP is dedicated to supporting our community and their growth regardless of global circumstances. To continue to do this we will carry on working from a distance until it is safe for our community centers to open. We are determined to support the learning and development of our community. The Grants Team will be prioritizing all efforts to acquire new funding to enable us to acquire tablets and laptops that can be loaned out to selected community members for their learning and information needs.