Partnering During a Pandemic: What's Happening in Home School?
The conversation about how best to re-open schools is currently filling our social media feeds and news outlets, locally, nationally and internationally. In the US, July and August bring "back-to-school" sales in the stores, and even though families seem less than excited about shopping right now, good-hearted, generous, smart shoppers are starting to ask if education ministries "need anything."
Whether sparked by the arrival of back-to-school sales or the general angsty conversation about re-opening schools, those who support education initiatives and ministries in El Salvador, are asking about the current situation in El Salvador and how the solidarity network can be most supportive, not only for 2020, but with a look forward to 2021.
In El Salvador, during the end of June and beginning of July, students are completing their current grading cycle in advance of the August week of vacation. Since March, students have been studying at home. During the lockdown (which went through part of June), many families could not go out to work. Hunger has been a real struggle. Two tropical storms brought flooding to many communities and some level of damage to almost everyone's home. The arrival of the dust storm from the Sahara desert exacerbated an already difficult situation.
Illness is everywhere. Is it being caused by bacteria in standing flood waters and contaminated soil? Are the fevers being caused by dengue? Zika? Chikungunya? Are the respiratory symptoms being caused by the thick dust in the humid air? Is it Covid-19? Yes. Yes to all of it.
This is the reality in which kids are studying at home. Locked in. Parents unable to work. Hungry. Wet. Sick. Yet, amazingly, children and youth from preschool to the university are doing their work and taking their exams and learning in the best ways they can.
Over the past week, I connected with several families in El Salvador to revisit the theme of education and see how things are going. Here are a few things which families and leaders wish to share and a few suggestions for those who are supporting education initiatives and scholarship programs:
- Internet is vital. Internet is available to students and they use cell phones to access it. Students and parents connect with their teachers/professors one-on-one, via chat groups and learn by watching online videos. Very few schools can use online interactive platforms due to the slow speed of the network. Students submit their homework online (even the little ones have to take photos of their work and make short WhatsApp videos to send to their teachers). Older students take exams online. Your continued support of scholarship students during 2020 allows families to pay for internet. If you have the capacity to help, you could ask community and program leaders if support is needed for additional students in your community.
- Printing things is required. Students do not have books. Everything is sent to them via links, and many things must be printed. This includes large documents for study by university students. (Think about a whole family sharing one phone or trying to read a PDF online over a weak signal.) There are places even in small communities that do printing. Some families have printers and try to assist neighbors or run a little mini-business. Paper and ink are both costly. Your continued support of programs during 2020 can help with this. Again, talking with your community about this need for children inside and outside of your specific program could be very important.
- School Kits are helpful. If your program includes bringing school supplies for students (which perhaps was planned for the end of 2020 or early 2021), this will not be possible with the current pandemic. You can help by organizing an effort with the leaders in your community. Consider purchasing supplies in El Salvador in bulk; think about supporting a local book or supply store; consider contracting with one or more people in your community to sew zippered pencil pouches or other types of school bags. NOW is a good time to talk about this with your local program leaders so they have time to get organized for the next school year.
- Celebrate remotely. Several students have recently sent me photos of their exam scores. They want to celebrate their achievements! It is not difficult to celebrate the achievements of children creating cool projects at home, completing their homework, getting good report cards or even graduating! Again, travel for the remainder of 2020 is not being recommended. Share photos via Messenger or WhatsApp to encourage students in their work and sponsors in their support. (Just remember to use good judgement about sharing things publicly.)
- Thank you from families throughout El Salvador, especially those in Lutheran Church communities, for the material support which sister churches have shared, not only through education programs, but through food initiatives during the lockdown and in the wake of the tropical storms. Thank you for the ongoing spiritual and emotional support you share through messages, online prayer and worship groups, and prayer chains. These connections are of vital importance, especially as more and more people are sick and frightened.