Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Hannah is Global Director of External Affairs for United Purpose. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown!
I live in Riverside. On match days I can hear the roar of the crowd, can feel the carnival atmosphere running through the streets and almost taste the beer swilling. There’s a castle on my door step, an ale house on every corner and on bin day it stinks. It’s the funnest, kindest place I’ve ever lived. I bloomin’ loves Cardiff.
The onslaught of the virus over February and March felt like a slow motion tsunami. We could see it coming, we all saw the pictures from Italy, but the surreal-ness meant it was all deniable. I remember when the death toll went to double digits – to 22 – I felt sick. What would the me back then think about a toll closer to 30,000. I’m glad she had no idea what was to come.
I’ve been working from home for a while now. I’m on the exec team of United Purpose, an international development charity head quartered in Cardiff.
We work with very poor communities in Africa, Asia and South America – helping them get out of, and stay out of, poverty. The type of poverty that is absolute. Where people don’t have access to clean water so babies regularly die of dysentery; where people don’t have enough food so stunting is a common; where people don’t have their own home, or even their own country.
We support refugee camps, we build water wells and show communities how to maintain them. We teach women skills so they can earn their own livelihood and send their children to school. We help small holder farmers understand changing weather patterns so their crops can be more resilient to climate change. We’ll also teach them business skills and co-operative models so they can get better prices at market. And now COVID-19 has hit, we’ve pivoted to an emergency response, providing communities with extra clean water, sharing hygiene messages and equipping rural healthcare centres with PPE.
I run our global external affairs work, and now I’m doing all this from my husband’s office, overlooking my neighbour’s delightful garden. And while I sit and stare out at the trees, admiring how fast the Dragon Heart hospital has been developed with the bed capacity of 2,000, it’s hard not to dwell on the challenges faced by the poorest communities. Malawi with a population of over 18 million is looking at how to cope with only 17 ventilators and 25 ICU beds for the entire population. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world – not everyone has access to clean water, most don’t have formal healthcare, a third of the population is stunted due to lack of calories in infancy, and one in ten has HIV/AIDS. This, coupled with the unpredictable nature of the virus, means the situation is grave. It’s a similar pattern in other poor countries.
The need is great, the crisis is acute and there is so much to be done. It’s a worry in a time of worries.
I worry for my 550 colleagues across the world too. The finest bunch of dedicated professionals I’ve ever met – they do the real hard work. We gave the option of evacuation to those staff who ordinarily live in the UK. They had to choose where to see through the pandemic – to risk staying where they were, or to risk the long journey home. Some stayed, some came home. But the vast majority of our staff are from the countries they work in e.g. Gambians in The Gambia. They have no choice to leave; they are home. And that home generally won’t be equipped to deal with this pandemic. A low point for me this month was updating our death in service policy to factor in a global health pandemic.
But there have been some lighter moments. I have been working with a Nigerian super star, Sunny Neji to develop a song about hand washing and social distancing. Songs via radio are by far the best way to reach rural, illiterate sub-Saharan communities. It’s so catchy the children are singing it and their parents are taking on the serious message. It’s gone viral in Nigeria and the piece of work has really made me smile.
But I have a confession. While the enormity of all this can weigh heavy, it simply does not stop me mourning my own life being put on hold. I have all the water and food I need, and I nice house with a lovely view from the office. And if I get seriously sick, which I probably won’t, there’s the Dragon Heart hospital. I’m so fortunate. And yet the self-pity waves over me. I’ve seen the absolute poverty with my own eyes, I know how lucky I am.
But all I want is to see my mum and Dad and have a pint of ale in Crafty Devil, Canton with my pals. Enjoy the summer festival of this amazing city has to offer and generally have a reason to brush my hair.
So I’ll stay in this little office, constantly reminding myself I’m not simply working from home, but working from home in a global pandemic; and it’s ok to want my life back.
Hannah is Global Director of External Affairs for United Purpose, a Cardiff based international development charity that works with three million of the world’s poorest people in Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Guinea, South Africa, India, Bangladesh and Brazil. Hannah is from Neath and has lived in Cardiff for seven years. Follow her on Twitter @hannahpudner.
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