We Need to Have a Conversation on Covid-19

Video Interview with NOWSPAR
07/02/2020 15:16

To learn about how some of ICSSPE’s members are handling the corona pandemic, we, staff members of the ICSSPE Executive Office, spoke to Lombe Mwambwa who works for NOWSPAR, the National Organisation for Women in Sport Physical Activity and Recreation in Zambia.


NOWSPAR is an NGO, founded in 2006. It is a membership based organisation comprised of women and men who believe that sport, physical activity and recreation have the power to foster social change and increase an individual’s quality of life. It advocates, educates, and increases participation of women and girls in sport. Lombe spoke to us about the work NOWSPAR is currently doing, how the pandemic has changed working conditions, as well as about future plans for NOWSPAR.



ICSSPE: Lombe, what is your role at NOWSPAR?


Lombe: My priority has been setting up the institutional arrangements as an NGO and also developing the relationships with the different organisations and different people who work within the sports sector, here in Zambia, in the region and internationally. The work that NOWSPAR does and why it was established is mainly to support the sports sector to address the inequalities that girls and women encounter. Our main interest is in getting whoever is working within sport to understand the needs of girls and women and also to understand what changes would make the situation a bit more positive than it is.



ICSSPE: How is the situation right now, in Zambia with the pandemic?


Lombe: The national response has been an emphasis on reducing the interaction of people. It has essentially been locked down and it's unclear when it's going to end. But today, there was an announcement around some activity and some institutions being able to open up again, for example, airports are opening again and some gatherings, including sports activities, are now allowed. Not to the maximum extent, they still have to be organised in such a way that they are observing prescribed distance measures as well as fewer people at the time.



ICSSPE: What are the current ongoing projects in NOWSPAR?


Lombe: For NOWSPAR the pandemic has meant a slowdown in several activities because we work directly with young people in schools, which are now closed. But there are activities that we deliver outside of school for girls and boys. Those have been able to continue, but at a reduced and adjusted way. For example, we have sports activities or physical activities incorporating lessons maybe on financial literacy or health and rights. We usually have groups of 25 to 30 young people. But because of the regulations, we had to reduce that. You cannot be more than 10 people. That has meant identifying how efficient you can work with sports organisations, communities, and NGOs. Some of these are new, some are just figuring out how to register and become formalised. Some of them are formalised, but they don't have much income yet. Much of our support to them is to develop internal policies and procedures and helping them to understand the landscape of development work and NGO functioning. We even help them with financial grants to enable them to deliver some activity to be able to consistently sustain their communities, and for them to practice being able to manage their own finances.


We reach approximately 2500 girls regularly to do sports activities and to have life skills education. We also do advocacy, reaching the public through TV and radio programmes. At the moment, we have a series on the radio on good governance within sports, explaining the different aspects of governance and presenting information how that looks like at organisational level. We also work directly with leaders of sports organisations. We do some training around leadership or training on particular topics such as guiding and protection or topics around media engagement. Because one of the things we learned in our work was that in order to get progress with sports organisations incorporating girls and women, we have to have sports organisations functionally strong. We had to get back to basics before we could focus on gender equality. It is about going about a holistic way, but still emphasising how all of that contributes to bringing forward girls and women’s rights to access to sports.


Some projects had to slow down and be readjusted. Now meetings happen online, for example via whatsapp. But not everyone manages to attend, because of the electricity supply. We have several hours when there's no electricity.


We realigned the budget to now incorporate expenses for facemasks, the sanitation, soap and detergent and things like that. All these are new items that previously were not there, but they are now requirements. We also reorganise in terms of priority. For example, a few weeks ago, we were having a session around menstrual health because of International Menstrual Health Day. But before we started the discussion on menstrual health we had a conversation on Covid-19, because in some communities they're not fully aware of it. You start out, give information of what it's about, what the interventions are, and do demonstrations on how to wear masks, how to wash hands properly. So you raise awareness about Covid-19 and then you deliver your planned sessions.


We have to re-educate the staff and the volunteers because now they also have to deliver information about Covid-19. It's taken up some time because you have to educate yourself. For us, it's a bit of an ethical question. We had to discuss internally, what is the benefit of us continuing to do this. Should we just stop all the activities to keep everybody safe in our organisation? But then we realise that the groups we're working with don't have other sources of information. They're relying on the community leaders, our volunteers and staff.


There are other adjustments to the programme. One of the elements with the young women is an apprenticeship programme. The ones who don't have opportunities to go to school or are supported by their families in particular ways, get an opportunity to apply for one of the programmes at NOWSPAR called ‘play forward’ and then they can get support to go to a training college where they get certified in some skills that they can use to make money. Lots of them choose skills that enable you to work with either from home or within your community. So lots of them choose things like cooking for events, tailoring, working in the hospitality industry or catering. So we support them to go to a trade school and get a formal qualification in that with our funding. They also get an opportunity to receive grants from us and they get money to set up their own business and they get a bit of mentoring from us. Some of the ones who studied tailoring when the pandemic happened, had an opportunity once they understood that they could make masks. It was also beneficial for us as they could supply the programme. Being financially independent becomes a big part of how to prevent or at least reduce gender based violence and how to increase the choices that young women have.



ICSSPE: How have the NGOs that you support dealt with the pandemic?


Lombe: For example, one organisation is based in a rural area in the southern province and parts of their activities are supporting young women who have been rescued from forced marriages or were married too young. They've been retrieved and being supported with education again and to get their lives back together. This organisation works very closely with the villages where they are located, and the communities where they are based. They reach out to the traditional leaders who are the senior authorities in the area, some government people, the local government, and also to the school leaders in the area. This situation is an opportunity for them to demonstrate leadership in their communities. We support them with funding to implement the events, to procure the materials and equipment, like masks and disinfectant. The main work was that they recognise they can use their influence and demonstrate to the community the value that they add in addition to the service already provided by promoting human rights of girls and their rights to physical activity and sport.


Then we have organisations who are still adjusting and still figuring out how to function in this situation, because now they don't have so much of capacity. They deliver life-skills education for lots of participants but the money they receive, is fixed. So it's been those sort of two extremes. But some of what we've been able to do is to support them, to do other things, like to work on the internal actions which do not require gatherings. We have two different groups, those doing a whole lot more than before and then those who have to scale down.


ICSSPE: Do you find that from the pandemic we can learn something related to good governance?


Lombe: Yes, I think it's a good opportunity for learning to survive risks that a pandemic like this brings. For sports organisations, when you talk about governance, they're very interested in things like elections, making sure you have your people on the board, your financial audits and things like that. But we've been steering the conversation towards the fact that good governance also means you are making sure your organisation is ready to face risks and that it can overcome challenges like this. One of the biggest challenges is the income. For most sports, income is tied to activities and events. There isn't so much income for just sitting there and doing office things. How do we make sure that the leaders understand that there's a huge risk of a financial loss? Funding is and will always be restricted. For example, you can't build up reserves because you have to spend your funds for the year. But hopefully the Pandemic teaches everyone that reserves are a necessity. I think we need to start having different conversations. The sports sector is one of the most unjust sectors in terms of wages, in terms of benefits for staff. You barely have health benefits or medical care or any of those things. And if you're working in a country where the government regulations are not even strong to protect workers, the sports sector is one of the places where such inequality occurs. And yet we are working towards development and towards human rights and all of those things that are in our mission. So the lessons that are coming up in this situation are that we cannot continue to ignore the bigger structures within which we work. It's very easy in the sports sector that you go to work today and tomorrow you don't have a job anymore because there is no more funding. So what happens to the people who are working in the sports sector? They've invested their skills and their lives in this. So the lesson there is around how we organise the labour within the sports sector, and we have to think pretty clearly about that. And we have to think clearly about the funding structures and we have to think clearly about the organisation resilience and organisation responsibilities to everybody who works within the sports sector.


ICSSPE: How do you see the future running of your organisations?


Lombe: We need to make some changes. I think we need to think about how to still keep some of the practices we had to develop now, for example. Prior to the pandemic, it was not really a requirement that everybody should be competent at working remotely, some didn’t need it before the lockdown. But I think that is now something that we must begin to make more of a priority. And secondly, for the future, we have to make some adjustments in our internal human resource policy. We now have to work it into our operation system. We have to have policies for it and we have to procure laptops for staff to use, get Wi-Fi gadgets etc. We also have to think about how to manage performance when staff are not in the office, what does that look like? We had some new staff who we brought on board just before the lockdown. So for the future we have to consider these sorts of circumstances and translate what works in the normal time and see whether any of it also works in times of a crisis like this. There are many places in the country where they had a crisis, a flooding, all sorts of different situations. This lockdown has been one of the biggest shakeups that we had. Previously we had to deal with things like the cholera outbreak, but it didn’t cause a shutdown. We're definitely going to keep some elements for the future.


We are interested in the future, and have conversations with other organisations, not just in the sports sector, but outside because we are interested in how are they are getting around certain issues. What are they doing?


I am interested in the organisations, especially in local organisations because we discovered that we communicate a lot with organisations outside the country. But I'm interested to find out what has happened here, maybe with the Women in Education Associations, the Association for Women and Girls and Law. What has happened to them? How are they managing? Because I don't hear from them. So I'm thinking locally. If we can develop these conversations to find out how each of us is managing and learning, that will be really beneficial. Otherwise we might be missing out on some key points and some interesting approaches that we haven’t considered and yet we live in the same context. So I think there's something interesting there to be explored.



The video interview can be found on our YouTube channel.