When the financial year comes to a close, it always offers us an opportunity to pause and look back on the year that was – to reflect on our successes, on our challenges and on how our programs in-country are working or in some cases, not working. This reflection is an important part of BTO’s approach, as it enables a process of continuous learning for us as an organisation and for our partners, and with that learning, an improving and refining of our work as we incorporate new wisdom and knowledge.
As part of a recent process of strategic planning within the organisation, we identified a set of core values that we have committed to uphold as guiding principles of our work. One of these was innovation and continuous learning. We see this process of reflection and continuous learning as key to the work we do and essential to ensuring ongoing operational improvement.
Adjusting to COVID-19 in 2019/2020
This year has quite obviously been a challenging one. For everyone. Our partners in Nepal and Kenya have had to rapidly respond to dramatic changes in the communities where they work and have had to find new solutions in an ever-changing environment. BTO has worked hard to support our partners to make these changes on the go, with the pandemic causing major disruptions to business as usual. In Nairobi, our partner organisation Alfajiri, were forced to quickly respond when the government closed all schools without warning forcing many vulnerable children who were safely studying in boarding schools, into the streets. Alfajiri were able to contact extended family in rural village areas to accommodate some of these children and in other cases emergency host families were found. While these closures have meant the children have now been out of school for the majority of this year, what Alfajiri have found is that many of these children are very happy to have been reunited with distant family. and tThrough a reprogramming of funds, BTO is now supporting these families to accommodate the additional children into existing households and we are now looking at the possibility of local schooling options instead.
In Nepal, where the country has experienced months of rolling nation-wide lockdowns, a focus on the counselling aspect of the work has become even more critical than before. Our HIV/AIDS outreach program supports affected and infected children who are still able to live at home and in the community but many have parents who are day workers or are employed as guides in the tourism sector and since the pandemic have experienced high rates of unemployment. While BTO has been able to offer emergency food and rental assistance, it was the counselling services that were found to be most in demand – by both children and parents. The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many families and these existing counselling services were able to respond with additional services during this time and our partners are now reviewing the program on the ground to see how the counselling components can play are broader roll in the overall delivery of our family support programs.
Reflections in the field
One of the most interesting lessons we learned this year came not from our emergency response work but in fact from our February field trip to Nepal. These annual field trips allow BTO staff to get into the field, observe first hand how the programs are operating and understand in more depth what the needs are of our in-country partners and how we can best support them. During this time we provided an opportunity for knowledge and ideas sharing between our Nepal-based program partners. From this process, an ongoing need for specialised support relating to child protection was identified, particularly when problems of a very complex and sensitive nature would occur.
As a result, BTO established a Child Protection Advisory Committee for the partners to seek ongoing advice and support from. The committee comprises child protection experts from across the US, Australia and Nepal and this has gone on to be a service we now offer all of our partners in the countries in which we work. As it turned out, this advisory panel became a critical part of our COVID-19 response during a time when partners faced many new challenges and when child safety was paramount.
September 15, 2020