On March 15, Kenya was put on partial lockdown after 2 COVID cases were reported in the country. Alongside government imposed dusk to dawn curfew, schools were closed and movement restricted. Within a week, the lockdown wave had spread to most East Africa countries. It created a sense of panic, fear and uncertainty. This hit our team hard because our work involves travelling, meetings and working with schools. I wondered how we would carry on with field activities.
At TAHMO East Africa, we have an elaborate guidelines 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 resolve the issue. But if the issue is more complicated, one of our technician/meteorologist/engineers visits the site. Additionally, we have put structures for preventing station failures. One way is by yearly preventive maintenance where we visits all the stations to identify any potential future problems and resolve them before hand.
When lockdown came along, we were at the peak of our yearly stations’ maintenances. I also had scheduled travels, clients to meet, projects to initiate and projects to push forward. All this was 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 any more. Travelling to the sites was 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 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 learnt 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 all to all to be smooth soon. There is still a sense of uncertainty on how the future will look like after COVID. But we will keep the hope and develop more ways of keeping our work going.