Q&A: Learning from Volunteers on the Ground in Somalia
There are 392 volunteers working actively under the Benadir Regional Administration in Mogadishu, Somalia to collect information that facilitates data-driven solutions to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. These volunteers rely on Flatten’s syndromic surveillance platform (surveying tool) as well as the Durable Solutions Unit, a humanitarian group led by Dr.Hodan Ali. The Flatten team had the opportunity to interview two volunteers and gain valuable insights into their experiences thus far.
About the volunteers:
Volunteer #1, Sahane Mohamud Hassan: Sahane completed his Bachelor of Public Administration, Faculty of Arts and Humanities degree in Mogadishu, Somalia. He is now working with the Benadir Regional Administration under the community-based surveillance programme.
Volunteer #2, Ahmed Abdikarin Moalin: Ahmed graduated from Hormuud University in 2016 under the faculty of Electrical Engineering. He has also participated in various courses and seminars, including project management, monitoring and evaluation, and nursing. After graduating, he has worked with Bondhere District Administration of the Benadir region, and currently as a team leader volunteer.
Flatten communications director, Sejal Jain, and colleague Isabella Ieraci, met with two volunteers on the ground in Somalia via a Skype call. Their conversation has been summarized below:
Question: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your typical day volunteering?
Answer from Volunteer #1, Sahane: I am from Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. We are collecting this information in order to help the community and government understand the impact that COVID-19 has on our society. This will help the federal governments of Somalia, the Benadir Regional Administration (BRA), and humanitarian agents ensure adequate responses to treat the vulnerable.
Normally we start each day at 8 am and work until 3 pm. We work every day except for Friday, which is a holiday. We go directly to each home, knock on the door and ask for consent to interview the household. If they give us permission, we continue with the interview. We tell them we are from the Benadir Regional Administration (BRA) and are volunteers asking questions to reduce the impact of COVID-19. When we finish for the day, we report our information to the team leader. The team leader then gives this information to the supervisor, who sends it to the Durable Solutions Unit (DSU). Each volunteer collects data from 15 households each day. If we encounter a problem, we communicate directly with the DSU team and they are able to assist us. In terms of PPE, we normally wear a face mask, gloves, and white clothes.
Answer from Volunteer #2, Ahmed: We work six days a week from Saturday to Thursday. We work in teams consisting of 15 people and with a team leader. The most important thing is asking permission to the mothers, fathers, young or management of that household before interviewing them.
Question: What impact is COVID-19 having on the ground thus far in Benadir in your preliminary findings?
Answer from Volunteer #1, Sahane: COVID-19 has affected us in terms of health, economically and more. For example, some people used to go to the market to buy bread every day but there are now many restrictions, and no one is selling. Also, if someone was a teacher, the schools are closed.
Answer from Volunteer #2, Ahmed: Economic and educational problems, as schools are now closed.
Question: Are there any challenges you have faced as a volunteer?
Answer from Volunteer #1, Sahane: There’s a negative stigma about coronavirus among the community which is a barrier when interviewing households. For example, if we ask the household “do you have or know anyone with symptoms of coronavirus,” they sometimes say “yes”. Then when we ask for further details they say “no, no, I don’t have any symptoms”. After a lot of consultation, they will tell us their symptoms in a sincere way. People will hide the fact that they have symptoms or have seen symptoms in others. When we advise and tell them it is a normal disease and is something you can avoid by doing things like not shaking hands, avoiding crowded areas, and keeping distance, then they realize it is a real disease.
Answer from Volunteer #2, Ahmed: One challenge we face in the community is that many people say that coronavirus is not a killer disease. To ensure they are aware of the impact, we remind them that it is a killer disease, but that there are many ways to avoid and protect against it. Everyone needs protection and to communicate and consult with each other. We always wear protection such as face masks and gloves because we know how serious this disease is, and that doing so will save people’s lives.
Question: What is the significance of the community-based surveillance programme, and how will it inform communities about this key public health issue?
Answer from Volunteer #1, Sahane: The community will give feedback to inform the Benadir Regional Administration (BRA), the central government and humanitarian agencies. The community currently benefits from this data collection and the number of responses will continue to grow. The unit is doing a great job, and they ensure adequate responses to reach those among society.
Question: Is there anything in particular that stands out during your time as a volunteer, and have you learned anything new from this experience thus far?
Answer from Volunteer #1, Sahane: I appreciate the Durable Solutions Unit (DSU) from the Benadir Regional Administration (BRA). They are managing this in a very good way. They help us if we ask and they allow us to ask questions if we have a problem. We appreciate them.
Answer from Volunteer #2, Ahmed: In departments, there are team leaders that are female to call for a gender balance. The main important factor is the quality or environment of governments, and for the Durable Solutions Unit (DSU) team, there are about nine or ten females out of the fifteen people. It is great to look at that side of our work as this is a great opportunity for Somalia in terms of gender equality.
We enjoy helping the community and appreciate the Flatten and DSU team for giving us this opportunity. I graduated in 2016 and up until now, I am working as a volunteer implementing health needs into various jobs. We need a lot of information about COVID-19 to send to our Durable Solutions Unit (DSU) team and share with our group team leaders from the 17 districts of the Benadir region. We use Whatsapp chatting for our team needs and at the same time develop more alliance or awareness for our population and neighbourhoods.
Authors and Interviewers: Sejal Jain & Isabella Ieraci
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