Globally, civil society organisations (CSOs) are faced with the spontaneous effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in Sierra Leone, where much of the work done is supported by funding from external sources, COVID-19 have had a more dramatic effect on the work of CSOs in communities. CSOs, especially smaller organisations in Sierra Leone have certainly been certainly be more affected because of their weak digital security infrastructure, as well as requisite knowledge and capacity to navigate the digital space with little to no difficulties. But how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the operations and programme of DCI – Sierra Leone in communities and what lessons has the organisations inherited from the pandemic
Firstly, the introduction of physical – social distancing measures by the government of Sierra Leone, to contain the spread of the COVID – 19 pandemic has confined DCI-Sierra Leone and upended their ability to meet, organize, lobby and advocate for both policy and practice change in communities in Sierra Leone. For Instance, the Sierra Leone Child Rights Coalition, and the Girls Advocacy Alliance partners including DCI-Sierra Leone that advocated for the review of the Child Rights Act, harmonisation of the Child Marriage Laws of Sierra Leone, have been forced to put planned activities on hold and scrambled to shift their work online because of COVID-19 (DCI – SL, 2020). The review could have addressed contradictions between the Child Rights Act, 2007, which protect children against child marriage and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Devoice Act, of 2007, which allows children to marry with parental consent in Sierra Leone.
Additionally, the COVID-19 has also impacted the ability of DCI – Sierra Leone to maintain their role, increase service delivery, give voice to vulnerable children, especially girls and young women and represent impoverished communities in our operational areas in Sierra Lone which are likely to be left behind in the public health emergency response in communities. Also, the closure of civic space and constraints on movement make the environment for direct support services, lobby, advocacy and accountability an extremely difficult one to work in for DCI – Sierra Leone. For instance, DCI – Sierra Leone had to reduced or cancelled some of planned project activities in communities including, trainings, workshops and campaigns because the restriction in staff movement and public gathering in communities to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in communities.
Further, the covid-19 pandemic has reduced our staff strength and increases organisational costs to implement programmes, operations and activities in in our operational communities in Sierra Leone. For instance, some of our staff, had to stay at home to look after their families as well as to support their children with their school work during this difficult times.
While DCI – Sierra Leone remained overwhelmed by the immediate impact of the COVID-19 on the organisation’s operations and programmes, they remained surprisingly optimistic about the future. For instance, the restrictions on our staff movement fast-tracked the adoption of technology solutions to implement our programmes in communities. It enabled DCI- SL’s staff to work from home and continue some of their operations. Staff had acquired new skills and gained experience in new tools and applications. Combined with the use of social media DCI-SL has harnessed their online presence to increase their visibility, connect with new audiences and secure support from new supporters and partners to continue to implement our programmes and project in communities even during post COVID-19 in communities in Sierra Leone.
Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened DCI-SL’s advocacy interventions in communities in Sierra Leone. For instance, DCI – Sierra Leone has often at the forefront of highlighting shortcomings affecting the protection and promotion of the rights of children and young people and advocating for changes in public policy and actions. With a more engaged public now experiencing the impact and consequences of COVID-19, DCI-Sierra Leone have got an opportunity to reinforce their activism and advocacy interventions around critical issues such as child justice, education, child trafficking, defence for girls and youth activism; intensify demands for improved public service delivery; monitor how governments are utilizing public funding in response to the pandemic; and expose any abuse of state power during the enforcement of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease in communities.
Finally, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the improved visibility of the work of DCI –Sierra Leone. For instance, while the national and mainstream media attention has been concerned mostly with the health crisis and potential collapse of economies, COVID-19 also placed the public and media spotlight on CSOs including DCI – Sierra Leone. More people in Sierra Leone are now aware of the work, the challenges the organisation face and their contributions during the pandemic. This awareness has resulted in new support and recognition of their ongoing operations, programmes and operations and activities in communities.