‘It healed my heart’
Struggling with the personal and professional repercussions of COVID-19, an educator in western Nepal finds solace and healing in an innovative approach to learning continuity supported by UNICEF
Kapilvastu, Nepal: Lila Panthi, who teaches pre-primary children at the Rangila Early Childhood Development center in Shivraj Municipality in Kapilvastu District in western Nepal, had never felt quite so helpless than she did in 2021, when the country was hit by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lila says that it had already been hard enough dealing with the impact of the first wave on the lives of people – especially children – but the second wave was heartbreaking in so many ways.
“Schools were closed, children stuck at home, and community people losing their sources of income,” she says of the situation at the time.
“As an ECD teacher, I was especially worried about what this would mean for early age children, because this is such a crucial time for their development.”
To make things much worse, COVID-19 also proved a deep personal tragedy for Lila, because it also meant losing her husband to the disease, his death so unexpected that she says she was in shock. The couple had both tested positive, with symptoms that were quite severe. “We had to be hospitalized, but while I eventually recovered, my husband didn’t make it,” she says.
Grief stricken, as well as being weakened physically by her own experience with the disease, Lila says she was a very low point in her mental and physical health.
“I couldn’t visualize the future,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine moving on.”
That was still her feeling when she got a call from Reeta Thapa Bohora from the Kapilvastu District Seto Gurans, UNICEF’s implementing partner. Reeta was the focal person for the tele-sikai or telephone-based learning approach that was piloted in several municipalities across the country in 2021 by UNICEF in collaboration with partner organizations such as Seto Gurans.
Under the tele-learning approach, parents and caregivers of young children of four years of age in targeted communities were provided mobile data to take part in closed user groups, where they would receive daily text messages describing different structured activities to carry out with their children. Teachers then followed up with the caregivers via phone to check on how the children were faring and to clarify any concerns.
The more she learned about the programme, the more invigorated Lila began to feel. “It was such an innovative concept, and something we could do from home to help children continue to learn,” she says. “It pulled me back into my role as a teacher.”
Convinced by Reeta, Lila committed to joining the programme. Although she admits it was a bit of a struggle at first since she was still recovering, a few weeks on and Lila was engaged in tele-sikai full time, working to help children and their caregivers learn together. While most of the guidance took place on the phone, Lila also occasionally visited children in their homes to personally counsel parents.
“It was a great experience to be able to still reach children in the community – including those who had dropped out and others from marginalized families – through the programme,” Lila says. “The parents were very excited, and we led them in engaging their children in all kinds of different home-based activities to build their skills and confidence.”
It was also gratifying, Lila adds, to be able to witness the bonds between children and caregivers becoming stronger, thanks to the focused attention and time that the tele-sikai approach demanded of them.
“Seeing this made me able to think and feel positive once again. It healed my heart.”