Adapting to Covid-19 – Reflections from a researcher

The conference was to take place on 6-7 May 2020 at Trademark Hotel in Nairobi: we were looking to engage the most ardent speakers, the themes were captivating, we were calling for papers because this conference was going to be different, it would have an impact and create long term working partnerships. We were excited to convene our network and looking forward to the buzz of discussion.

All this while North America, Europe and Asia were reporting cases of a strange new virus. In Africa, life trudged along and here in Kenya we watched in horror at what was happening to countries in the west and in Europe and were deeply saddened, yet grateful that this virus had not yet gotten to us. Perhaps our plans would go unhindered and the conference could still happen?

Then came 11th March 2020 when The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and on 13th March 2020, Kenya reported its first case. The virus had finally reached us and life as we knew it, was no more. Everything became uncertain as we, along with the rest of the world, neither knew the extent of this virus nor how long it would be with us. Week after week, both global and local news were grim and everything came to a complete stand still. Of course, the conference had to be postponed until further notice. Things changed and fast, government directive was issued and we all had to work from home, something I never thought I would hear. No more meeting in person, no more physical contact, the world, life itself suddenly became very strange.

Now, more than a year later, we’re still adapting and thinking hard about the significance of our work and how we remain relevant in a time and season where our way of work is being challenged and everything is uncertain? How do we reach the people whose lives we are trying to impact and can we still be agents of change?

As the REF Research Team Leader, I am involved in field work a lot, but with all the new restrictions, field work cannot be conducted. The pandemic forced me to change the way I was going about my activities. Every aspect of life has been forced to change. As the REF team we have come up with new methods of working, new methods of producing reports that do not necessarily require field work to be conducted. Where we can, interviews are being conducted over the phone and we’re thankful that we can use digital platforms to meet as a team and connect with our network. We’ve launched a new webinar series to share our research and discuss emerging issues.

On a personal level, this season and time has availed me time to get closer to my family and friends and to strengthen my relationship with my niece and nephews, who I did not see often, catch up on books that had been gathering dust, learn new things via online courses and even brush up on some of the languages I speak. In the end, this time has been a blessing in disguise for which I am grateful. 

What next after the pandemic? Do we go back to the old way of life? What is the old way of life anyway? Times have changed and we have to go along with the times we are in, and there can therefore not be any going back. And so whenever the pandemic ends, whenever that will be, we will all become a ‘new’ people, a people hopeful that the future is still bright.

Author: Lavender Mboya

REF Research Team Leader based at Sahan Research, Nairobi.

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