The Covid-19 pandemic this year has changed the way the world functions in just a matter of months. But even after (if there is ever an ‘after’!) the situation settles down and the world gradually emerges from lockdown, will we ever return to life as we knew it before Covid-19? Multiple news reports have discussed and predicted how the way we will carry on with our lives beyond this crisis is bound to change. If anything, being forced to work remotely in lockdown has revealed the massive potential of technology that many of us have failed to recognise until now. And while there have been struggles and mad scrambles to cope with the changes and challenges of moving much of our lives and work online, it has also uncovered various weak links that must now be dealt with as we prepare to deal with a new norm.
With a large proportion of Wycliffe’s work centred on people groups living in remote areas, what does working remotely mean, especially for our missionaries in the field? We spoke to Pearle, who serves as a multilingual education specialist in South Asia, who is now back in Singapore and coping with exactly this situation:
Before you left the area where you worked in, what was the situation there like?
The January to March period has always been a busy period doing material production, meeting with project teams and conducting training workshops for the literacy and education programmes in the field. By God’s grace and protection, up till late March, the number of COVID-19 cases found in the country I am serving was still very low. That gave us time to continue our work normally before restrictions started to be put in place. As the worldwide situation worsened around us in March, John 9:4 (“As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”) has regularly been in my mind. It was perhaps a subconscious sense of urgency to try to get as much work done as possible, and to meet with our partners to provide support on tasks that they could subsequently take on and do on their own. I am very thankful that we did manage to do that, because the situation did evolve very quickly. It was only 12 hours from the time I started considering coming back to and the local government’s official announcement of the airport closure the same night, and three days before the country came to a national lockdown and everything came to a standstill.
What are some adjustments that have had to be made?
Besides my involvement in the field, some of my other roles involve working with colleagues from different parts of the world. So I am quite used to working from home and connecting virtually with people. However, doing that here takes more adjustment since I am staying with my parents. It requires a mindset change for them that I need a quiet space and time to focus on my work. I also learn to be ready to be disrupted from time to time to respond to my family’s needs, and adjust my daily routine to maximise my attention to work whenever I can find pockets of quieter hours at home. This is especially since my online meetings and classes are scattered over the day to fit my colleagues based in other time zones. I appreciate how God used the Stay Home Notice period to help me create a physical working space, and it helped all of us get on a good start. I am also thankful that God has brought me back and I can support my family in practical ways during this time.
What do you find are some challenges of working remotely?
Part of my involvement in the field is to support local project teams in conducting teacher training, meeting field staff for progress updates and visiting the rural village schools to provide support and feedback to teachers. That portion of our work has come to a standstill for now since the country is in a lockdown, and nothing can be done remotely. Also, the country’s IT infrastructure is limited and people’s digital literacy proficiency and possession of IT devices are relatively lower, especially in the rural areas. So I cannot communicate with those field staff or project staff without internet access especially now that I am out of the country.
What do you think post-Covid19 will be like for your project?
COVID-19 has caused a global economic crisis that will take a long time to recover. For many in the country, especially those relying on family members working in cities or overseas as migrant workers, meeting their basic livelihood needs are their main concern and fear before they have room to consider their children’s education, or joining literacy classes. The limited IT infrastructure in the rural areas, as well as community’s low digital literacy proficiency and possession of smartphone or laptop device is also a constraint that limits local schools from being able to continue classes or interaction with students like the developed countries. It is therefore important for us to recognise the challenges local communities are going through, understand their priorities and needs and discern how to adjust our programmes practically based on the new normal within the constraints we face.
Let us continue to pray for Pearle and the project she serves in, as well as all the other missionaries, projects, and people groups affected by COVID-19.