People and Culture team: Away but with you
When the opportunity to pursue Masters and PhD degrees or a research grant came calling, they projected the timelines – given the three months, one year, three years or so it would take, it was worth making a sacrifice to leave family and the country they knew behind. So they took off with a sense of adventure to experience a new culture, and broaden their horizons.
Covid-19 lockdowns declared by India, South Africa, Spain, USA, Czech Republic and UK found them miles away devoid of the comfort of isolating with family. Universities shut down, students were evacuated from on-campus residences and returned home. Campuses were left empty, only inhabited by a few foreign students unable to make it back to their home countries. The mandatory lockdowns, more intense than what we have in Kenya, found Strathmore staff members in countries where perhaps they are a minority and with limited or no physical human companionship.
A few made it back to the country in time before our borders were closed; they had to undergo the necessary 14-day quarantine declared by the government, however. They were faced with the anxiety of the possibility of having been exposed to the virus, and having to spend a fortnight in unfamiliar surroundings, all with little human contact.
“We would call them every few days to check up on them and talk to them about general issues, to draw their minds away from the anxiety of being in quarantine, and the long wait for their test results. As anyone in that sensitive situation would be, they were anxious, and apprehensive, especially when it came to the test results,” Cecilia Maina, People and Culture (P&C) Administrator.
People and Culture buddies
The P&C team were each assigned staff members to look after those on quarantine and those abroad. Their task was to reach out, and accompany them as they navigated through the stressful situation.
“They were grateful we called, that a fellow Kenyan reached out to them, because save for family and a few friends, they’ve had no other contact with the outside world. Some were pleasantly shocked to receive calls and emails from their employer,” Raphael Karanja, P&C Business Partner.
Staff members abroad have had to wade through challenges brought about by the pandemic. In an unfortunate turn of events, one staff member was unable to attend a parent’s funeral due to the restrictions on travel. And as the pandemic slows down economies and travel, and shoves the world into a new normal, the disbursement of funds for students on scholarships becomes affected and is delayed, and adds to the anxiety of financial constraints.
With time, having noted the varying circumstances of the staff members, the P&C team teamed up with the Chaplaincy team and Fr. Charles Mundia has been joining the regular zoom calls.
“One has already been indoors for about a month. The campus she is on is situated next to a military camp; that interferes with internet connectivity and calls, which regularly cuts her off from what is happening around her,” Raphael continues.
Thriving academic life
However, despite the crippling situation the pandemic is thrusting countries in, for some of the staff members, it is not all doom and gloom and the P&C team looks forward to receiving them back with their academic accolades later this year. One of them commented, “This lockdown mimics our life as academics pursuing a PhD degree as we necessarily have to spend a lot of time alone working on our theses. It has given me time to delve into research and this will perhaps shorten my time here in the UK.” For them, life has to go on, research has to be done, and graduations have to happen.
For the P&C team, it has been a true joy to reach out to them and to share in the sense of relief that none of the staff members is now on quarantine or is infected. The vivid presence of fellowship felt among colleagues in the University and the value of personalized attention is now more ingrained in the team. And with the majority of staff members settling into the shift from office work to working from home, a conversation on the future of work has been ignited.
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: firstname.lastname@example.org