Training in the Time of Covid

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Photo: RedR UK

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on people across the world, including in the Middle East and North Africa; a region where so many have already suffered deprivation, wars and lack of basic facilities.

For millions of refugees and displaced people living in cramped camps or informal settlements, social distancing has not been an option. How do you promote effective disease control and prevention in these settings? How do you manage myths and rumours about Covid-19? How do you communicate about risk and engage with communities in a Covid-19 world? How do you support staff to manage remotely, provide emotional support and create mentally healthy workplaces? Violence against women and girls has increased exponentially with Covid-19. The UN described it as a ‘shadow pandemic’. How do you analyse risks and mitigate and respond to gender-based violence before, during and after Covid-19?

In the Covid-19 response for MENA, RedR UK designed 11 online training courses to address these specific challenges. Our objective was to ensure responders have access to accurate, accessible, up to date and contextually specific information.

The materials were designed by a team of international and local experts supported by RedR UK learning and development coordinators. The approach allowed us to combine international and local knowledge and expertise.

In total we have run 143 courses and trained over 3,000 people. All were offered for free to participants. All our courses were hosted on Zoom.

The project targeted responders in the MENA region. Participants included government, humanitarian and development staff, community-based organisations, faith-based organizations, women’s and youth groups and medical professionals. We had people joining from 91 countries. Our outreach extended beyond the intended reach of countries and organizations, underlining the demand for training in other regions too.

What have we learned?

We have learned to re-evaluate our internal organizational biases. For years we have been resisting moving ‘online’ as we were not convinced that ‘online’ you could replicate the quality of interaction of face-to-face learning. Face-to-face training remains to us by far the most effective, enjoyable, and engaging way to train. But after having run over 200 online courses since the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been impressed by how well they actually work. The courses we designed involve discussion in pairs or in groups. We have learned that you don’t lose all the interaction between participants with Zoom.

The world is changing, we have changed and adapted too, and we are still learning as new tools emerge for online facilitation. What you miss still is some of the camaraderie that builds on a face-to-face course, but even at the end of online courses, where participants come together several times over a period of several weeks, there are bonds that develop between participants and fond farewells at the end.

90% of participants wrote in their evaluations they ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that trainer was inclusive and encouraging. Their comments show they appreciate the experiential and positive learning they have experienced.

“It was the greatest online-training ever, thank you so much."

Chisato Masuda, UNFPA

To be truly accessible to local responders, we also had to rethink our communication strategy and revamp our system. We made sure information about out courses was available not only in English but also in Arabic. Registrations too were offered both in English and Arabic and our M and E tools were translated into Arabic to feed into our central M and E database. We offered multiple time slots for trainings to accommodate schedules and observation of religious events. Courses were run by English and Arabic speaking trainers, recruited not only from the ‘global North’ but also from the region.

Participant evaluation reports highlight quality, relevance and accessibility of the training. Interactive and engaging learning processes, excellent facilitation skills and experience and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter by the trainers are emphasized as the ‘best’ aspects of the course.

“Useful and thought provoking, thank you very much.”

Federica Giannuzzi, Coordinator, CBO

89% of those who attended said the course content was relevant to their work. 95% of participants rated the courses as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. 91% rated improvement in knowledge and skills as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. 73% of participants reported that the course would have represented good value for money if a course fee was imposed.