Hope and Resilience During COVID-19: Part 2
For over 50 years, TechnoServe has helped hardworking women and men in the developing world gain the skills, connections, and confidence to create self-sustaining businesses and build a path out of poverty. In part two of this series, we ask a few of these farmers and entrepreneurs to share how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their lives and how they are coping with its effects.
For many women and men in the developing world, it was already difficult to put food on the table for their families, send their children to school, and effectively run their farms and businesses. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a result, extreme poverty — defined as living off of less than $1.90 per day — is expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years.
But in a year characterized by uncertainty, we have also seen resilience, determination, and hope. We asked TechnoServe clients — small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs throughout the developing world — to share how the pandemic has transformed their lives and how they are coping with its effects.
Read part one here, then check back next week for part three.
I tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stop classes abruptly.”
— Soumya Sharma, Mumbai, India
Soumya Sharma lives in Mumbai, India, with her parents, two siblings, two cousins, uncle, aunt, and grandmother. On a typical day, she would wake up at 6 a.m. to attend her classes and work part-time as a teacher in the evenings. But when the lockdown began, her entire routine changed.
“In June, both my parents tested positive for COVID-19, which affected us financially,” Soumya says. “We have two small rooms in our house, and 10 of us live there. We had to keep my parents in one room, and the rest of the eight of us were in another room.”
Soumya found herself stuck at home, worried about her family, and without a routine to keep her busy. “In June, I joined the TechnoServe [C2C] course, which gave me some activity in the form of sessions and assignments,” she shares.
Since 2015, TechnoServe’s Campus to Corporate Careers (C2C) program has been working to empower economically disadvantaged youth in Mumbai and the surrounding areas. The program runs in over 50 colleges and is quickly expanding to other cities across India.
C2C’s model has been designed to act as a ‘career bridge’ for disadvantaged youth in their final year of college through an interactive blend of employability training, career counseling, and job placements to kickstart their careers in the formal sector. Thus far, the program has provided formal sector job employment for more than 11,000 youth throughout Mumbai.
“But two weeks after joining the course, I tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stop classes abruptly. I left a message for my trainer that I would not be able to continue the course. She called me, discussed my challenges, and conducted sessions with me on the content I had missed. [Eventually], I resumed my sessions by keeping them on mute while I was in the hospital.”
Despite the health and financial challenges Soumya and her family have faced this year, she believes her future is bright. “I always believed that I would never be able to make it to a high-profile job and work with a big company,” she says. “But through the course, I became a confident person. I got to know about many big companies and what skills they are looking for. I was able to learn those skills, and by August, I got a placement offer from Samco Securities. My parents are very happy and satisfied that I’m working. I have also bought a laptop with my earnings, which I never imagined I would be able to do.”
“I was very affected and anxious because my children were forced to stay at home.”
— Emilienne Gbewa, age 33, Djidja, Benin
For the last five years, 33-year-old Emilienne Gbewa has been responsible for her family’s two-hectare cashew orchard in southwest Benin. Emilienne spent her days selling her crops at the local market, working on the farm, and caring for her three children.
“In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, all my sales dropped because I was no longer going to the market for fear of contracting the virus,” Emilienne says. “It was also the time of cashew marketing. Prices dropped significantly, and buyers were scarce.”
At the same time, Emilienne was trying to juggle her increased childcare responsibilities. “During this period, I was very affected and anxious because my children were forced to stay at home,” she says. “This increased the burden of housework for me.”
Despite the unexpected challenges Emilienne faced this year, she is optimistic about 2021. After working with TechnoServe, she increased her cashew production three-fold this year and is now helping provide household expenses, school fees, and supplies for her children. She even has some money left over to help others in her community with medical care and food.
“I have the firm conviction that we will transcend the obstacles due to this pandemic,” Emilienne shares. “Whatever the situation, cashew is always in demand. The [TechnoServe] program has taught me techniques to increase my production, and [the team] encourages me to work hard to increase my income. Between now and 2021, I remain optimistic and confident.”