Community Resilience – From Victim to Victor

The multi-faceted and complexity of living through the crisis of COVID 19, first of all, is demanding that we survive the pandemic by finding functional coping strategies to get through it; and then developing resilience to deal with future challenges. It is known that COVID 19 is threatening the whole world in general, our region – Africa, our country – Ethiopia, our community, family, and the self, in particular, making our living under a constant threat of losing. As I was grappling with the pandemic, an Amharic proverb came to my mind – “Humanity can cope with catastrophe, but cannot deal with indulgence.” “የሰው ልጅ መከራን መቋቋም ይችላል፤ የማይችለው ጥጋብን ብቻ ነው፡፡” This saying assures the resilient nature of humanity.

Physical health has been a top concern as we anxiously check for news on containment of COVID-19 and taking preventive measures not to contract the virus. Besides, we are worrying about: losing jobs and incomes, business and financial fallout, school closures and adjusting to online schooling, losing loved ones and letting go, family issues, and uncertainty about what the future holds for us. For health workers, especially the front liners, the pandemic takes various challenges ranging from working under a constant death threat to mental health to family concerns, and the harsh realities of multiple losses.

Psychologists recommend stress management techniques to deal with significant stressors and daily hassles. Identifying stressors and solving problems whenever possible will be the number one choice to face our realities. However, for the things we cannot change, we use techniques like meditation, visualization, and deep breathing to foster one’s well-being and ability to handle adversity.

As a country, Ethiopia is under a different level of overwhelming stress. We do not have a strong health system that could withstand the pandemic as Europeans, and the US resisted, nor a social welfare structure to secure the survival of those who do not have a daily bread supply. We have a weak economy that bridges us to pass to the unknown uncertainty both in terms of how long we are going to stay locked down and how to deal with the repercussion of the already lost things.

Apart from urging Ethiopians to taking precautions and contribute to the reduction of the transmission at a personal level, the Prime Minister appealed to us to do two things: sharing meals with those who would not afford and sustain it through the pandemic and to deliver innovative initiatives to deal with the novice coronavirus. This is a call for a more strengths-based approach to coping with our problems locally. The response by the people was awe-inspiring. I observed that many volunteers are involved in supporting those underprivileged by sharing their meals, spaces, business buildings, cars, and many more to face the immediate challenges of the lockdowns.

Last week I had a chance to participate in the webinar the Prime Minister Office organized entitled “Innovating in Times of Crisis.” The three Ministers of the Ministry of Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of National Planning described what has been done thus far to mitigate the pandemic at the ministerial levels. From the private sector, X-Hub CEO explained how they facilitate the incubation of innovative ideas of the youth in their center, targeting entrepreneurship. At the end of the webinar, the PMO put a link whereby those who have creative ideas could post their prototype or any innovative initiatives that will help deal with the health problems the country was facing. Surviving COVID 19 crisis is requiring us to use our creativity to survive and thrive. When our focus is directed towards solutions, we will develop the skills needed to thrive afterward.

Scholars described resilience as both an outcome and a process, referring to both individuals and communities. As individuals, we develop resilience when we are squeezed on all sides by the multi-faceted challenges. I have found out thriving is the best way of coping. It will be impossible to know how the future unfolds in a year from now.

However, if we push ourselves to use our creativity and solve our multifaceted social, technological, systemic, structural, and bureaucratic problems, and deliver results, this will keep our mind to be productive and build a more resilient future. As communities, we are forced to developing new domestic habits, cultural norms and religious practices, collective mindset of self-sufficiency (when other nations struggle with the same issues and locked themselves down), and developing some networks to face our issues collectively.
Rony Berger described a resilient society as, “The capacity of a community to deal with a major crisis by adapting and growing while minimizing casualties and preserving a fair quality of life for all its citizens and maintaining its core values and identity.” I like this interpretation because resilience is not merely bouncing back to the previous level of functioning. Instead, it requires incorporating trauma into one’s personal and collective narratives and building on to move to the next transformative space. As a nation, we are allowed to examine all our dysfunctional as well as functional systems, and ways of living. Now we are focusing on the most important things to our existence.

The obscure systems which are now exposed demanded our nation to build solid systems before other major disasters strike us, and deal with poverty, social justice, reliance on local resources, and establishing formal linkages and networks that transform problems to opportunities. We can no longer leave life to chances and hope better things will come. We need to increase our locus of control and design our better future. COVID 19 gave us a chance to stop and evaluate our personal, family, social, educational, economic, political, and environmental life. The multi-dimensional call of the pandemic is our chance to create systems to share as well as innovate to transform our society. Our collective community resilience will put things into our hands to design our future. We can no longer afford to blame our past, the government, nor coronavirus, and remain to be victims.

Developing community resilience is our best choice to transform our victimhood to victory by sharing what we have and working on solving our problems innovatively! After involving in many sharing activities, one of my Facebook friends suggested that we need to work on low cost affordable homes, job creations, and nation-wide school feeding programs, micro loans with good business ideas without collateral, health care for all citizens, old age shelters, and so forth to establish a resilient system.

What are you sharing and innovating?

Written by: Seble Hailu