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Being a Volunteer in the time of COVID-19

The author, Diana P. Carvajal F., is a volunteer legal advisor deployed in Colombia, as part of the project “Transitional Justice for Women (JUSTRAM), implemented by Lawyers Without Borders Canada (ASF Canada). Diana currently supports the activities of the Bogota office mainly in matters of strategic litigation and raising awareness of gender-based violence.


We were in the middle of planning a workshop with women leaders from the Southwest region of Colombia when the very first cases of COVID-19 appeared in a few cities across the country. Very quickly and along with the Defensoría del Pueblo (the Office of the Ombudsman in Colombia), one of our local partners, we were forced to notify the participants and the invited institutions of the suspension of our activities until it would be safe to resume them.

The initial postponement of all of ASF Canada events with a large concentration of people was quickly followed by the implementation social isolation measures among all ASF Canada staff. Overnight, our working conditions (and lives) were transformed by the strict mandatory containment measures adopted by the local and national governments (which have been since extended to 11 May 2020). Now, settled into working from my home in Bogota, I finally have a moment to reflect on what we are currently experiencing. 

 

News and Current Events


Amidst the plethora of press releases, legal (and non legal) opinions, informative notes, and other documents currently invading our inboxes, social networks and the media at large, some of the questions that concern me the most are:
(In no particular order)

  • The well-founded fears of an increase in violence against women and children linked to social isolation measures.

  • The economic consequences of the pandemic such as the risk of a national (and worldwide) recession, fluctuating exchange rates, uncertainty in the stock markets (and the list goes on…) which are already being experienced, with perhaps the hardest consequences in the poorest countries.

  • The increased risk of threats to society, which are frequently associated with economic and social crises. For instance, potential disruptions of public order, pillaging and increased crime.

  • The economic measures announced to ease the burden on the most vulnerable populations in society (we still have hope…). These initiatives are crucial, as many people have lost their livelihoods due to the suspension of activities of companies and organizations. It is worth recalling that in Colombia, thousands of people are unable to quarantine themselves, as they either do not have a home or the means to afford to purchase the supplies necessary.

  • The rising tensions in penitentiaries and the difficulties in applying the necessary precautions to protect prisoners from contagion. 

  • The increasing number of people falling ill, and subsequent deaths. Fortunately, there appear to be positive figures regarding recovery rates.

  • The emergency regulations adopted by governments and, particularly, the Government of Colombia. (ASF Canada is currently monitoring the impact of the State of Emergency caused by Covid-19 on fundamental and human rights. To view ASF Canada’s publications on the matter click here [in Spanish].)

 

From my Perspective as a Volunteer


Since the beginning of the crisis, ASF Canada, acting with the necessary precautions, offered all volunteers who were on a mission abroad the opportunity to be repatriated. Personally, the decision to return to Canada suddenly and leave the mission that had been entrusted to me worried me more than staying in Colombia. Acting in accordance with the #Stayhome trend seemed to be the best way to contribute to flattening the curve…and for the time being, Colombia is my home.

With that said, working remotely does present numerous challenges. Meetings, conferences, trainings and even teamwork are all taking place virtually. While this has allowed me to see my colleagues in Canada and abroad more than usual (which is lovely!), it can still feel lonely at times. We have therefore also added “tip sharing” on how to better manage the stress and anxiety related to isolation to our regular team discussion topics. We have also needed to deal with the difficulties of organizing our workloads. The team now even shares recommendations with one another so as not to fall into a complete state of disorder (as working in pajamas entails some risks!) Keeping in touch with relatives and colleagues is, I believe, a good way to keep one’s feet on the ground. 

Despite these minor adjustments we’ve had to make (due to the major global crisis), we’ve managed to keep going and continue our mission improving access to justice for women. Collectively, the ASF Canada team works to keep up the spirits of its members while echoing the #Çavabienaller trend.
 

Thanks to our partners without borders

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