Author: Anahit Badalyan, Project Focal Point in Berd community
In my capacity as Berd community focal point for the UNDP “Enhancing Human Security in Communities of Armenia” project, I was asked to conduct a little survey, revealing the “situation on the ground” for selected types of respondent groups in rural settlements of the Berd consolidated community in Tavush region. In this article, I will try to summarize the impressions that appealed the most to me. With the permission of my audience, I will not mention the names of my respondents at their personal requests.
120 days have passed, since the Government of Armenia has announced a state of emergency in Armenia, and COVID-19 remains one of the hottest topics with its biggest impact on all spheres of our daily life. Back then, most people in our communities did not take the situation very seriously, making up stories regarding the “global and regional consipiracies”, while our daily casualties, little by little, were forcing people to look at the pandemic more soberly. And the consequences of collective negligence did not make us wait long, though.
“My brother was 50 years old person with full of energy, living a prosperous life. I don't think he had an obvious illness or complaint” reports on of our respondents, who wished to stay anonymous. Due to his work, he was in contact with many of his clients, and during this period of pandemic he could not continue working from home. When we were informed that he was infected with coronavirus, we thought he was young and strong enough to overcome the disease. As it turned out, he went to hospital late and, unfortunately, doctors could not save his life.
The pandemic has negatively affected both rural and urban communities. Some employees lost their job partly or completely, the unemployed were deprived of additional sources of income. Many informal workers lost their jobs instantly, without being able to get official assistance. There are, however, communities, which were vulnerable even before the pandemic. One of our respondents from the border community of Movses, who has been through manyhardships states:
"I am not in stress at all. I try not to be close to anyone and I go for shopping rarely. It’s a small village and we all know each other. It’s hard to get out and come back quickly, without chatting with someone. We have adapted to all kinds of force majeure, she laughs, this will definitely end, we just have to be careful, eat fresh fruits and vegetables. I usually eat what my garden gives, the harvest is without any pesticide, so you are welcomed to join!”
The most vulnerable group includes single elderly people, as they have difficulties with receiving pensions, wire transfers from banks, shopping and elevated vulnerability and exposure to COVID-19. Many of them received humanitarian aid due to state or international programs, but what they need most of all, is a correct and timely communication on the threats and procedures to escape infection, as well as assistance in receiving pensions, medicine, food and other critical items from outside.
Same applies to people with disabilities, who have a lack of information and experience how to get social assistance continously and, if they received it ever, it has been a one-time compensation and cannot be enough, especially for big families.
The good news is that people have increased confidence in healthcare providers during the pandemic. According to our information from the local medical center, those patients, who received treatment course or haven not received serivce, but followed virus prevention and treatment activities, highly appreciate the work of healthcare facilities, noting that everything is being done to the best of their ability.
One of our young interviewees has been hospitalized recently with her 6 months-old child immediately after the infection was confirmed. She was taken from Berd community to Yerevan (220km), due to the absence of COVID-19 specialized hospital in Tavush region. Being a psychologist by her profession and working in this field for several years, it was extremely difficult for a young mother to isolate herself with a baby, who of course, did not adapt to the conditions of isolation. As she assures, the treatment lasts quite long and after that the patients are required for special care and attention, as well as psychological support to recover and return to a normal life. Because physical contact is excluded, support can be provided online, with encouraging messages, good music, movies, and short-term training. She specifically attaches great importance to psychological support and counseling, especially for medical workers, as a lot depends on them. She notes that they need to be more confident, balanced and calm, relieving the patients from panic, instead of creating panic for themselves, which sometime happens.
As confirmed with many of my relatives and respondents, every day agricultural work is the best antidepressant and even treatment from many deseases. The majority of Aygedzor’s population in Berd is in the gardens, mainly engaged in production and export of figs.
Grandpa Melis, who founded a small tropical garden, is not interested in the coronavirus news, but neither ignores the Commandant’s decisions. He is isolated in his garden, planning his own business ideas on possible ways of expanding and selling his dried laurel leaves. Despite his age, Grandpa Melis does not include himself in any vulnerable group of COVID-19. He considers gardening as the best remedy and advises to wake up together with the sun, train muscles and move on working in the garden!
If interviewing myself, I would say that there are so many "faces" of COVID-19 that we are not aware of in rural communities, yet. I believe that we have learnt a lot and can do much better in communicating positive messages with our exemplary behavior. Our response has a lot to do with respecting peoples rights. Because, after all, maintaining social distance and wearing protective equipment is not about our protection, but mostly about recognizing the rights of vulnerable groups and general public to be protected from possible disease. This is why personal stories and positive behavioral examples are so important. Instead of COVID-19, we can try to also “infect” people with doses of precaution and sense of responsibility towards citizens and community.