On March 15, Kenya was put on partial lockdown after 2 COVID cases were reported in the country. Alongside the government-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew, schools were closed and movement restricted. Within a week, the lockdown wave had spread to most East African countries. It created a sense of panic, fear and uncertainty. This hit our team hard because our work involves traveling, meetings and working with schools. I wondered how we would carry on with field activities.
At TAHMO East Africa, we have an elaborate guideline for field work that ensures we provide high-quality data. If a weather station is faulty for instance, our first point of contact is the host who checks if the issue is minor and where possible resolves the issue. But if the issue is more complicated, one of our technicians/meteorologists/engineers visits the site. Additionally, we have put up structures for preventing station failures. One way is by yearly preventive maintenance where we visit all the stations to identify any potential future problems and resolve them beforehand.
When lockdown came along, we were at the peak of our yearly stations maintenance. I also had scheduled travels, clients to meet, projects to initiate and projects to push forward. All this put me in a limbo. Top on my list of attention was how our team would carry along repairs. There are no two ways with weather stations. If it is not working, data not captured will never be recovered. But how then would we carry on with the activities with COVID challenges?
In Kenya, most stations are hosted in schools. When schools shut a big number of teachers relocated. We did not have effective communication with the hosts anymore. Traveling to the sites was a challenge too. You would be comforted with several fears – caught out of time due to delays in screenings mounted in roadblocks, or at worst, being put on government quarantine.
By mid-April, we had put up a structure where more people would help with field activities. In Kenya for instance Victor (TAHMO Engineer) involved former interns and volunteers living in areas where we could not travel to assist with some of the work. In Rwanda, Honore (TAHMO Engineer), trained new technicians via zoom that would take work in areas in regions he was unable to travel.
At the time of this writing (mid-July 2020) countries are easing restrictions. There is less fear – we have probably learned to carry on with our work amidst the challenges. TAHMO East Africa Network improved tremendously in the last two months. Not everything is working right, and we do not expect everything to be smooth soon. There is still a sense of uncertainty about how the future will look after COVID. But we will keep the hope and develop more ways of keeping our work going.