PoP’s Impact + COVID-19

Christopher Stanfill
Senior Director, Learning & Evaluation
April 28, 2020
Photo description: A view of Luang Prabang, Laos from the top of a hill near town
Photo credit: Timmy Shivers

These unprecedented times have forced people to make adjustments in their lives and find ways to continue supporting their loved ones and broader community. In many ways, a global community in crisis has revealed the best in human nature and brought communities together to discover solutions and support systems that will contribute to the collective recovery effort. The mission at Pencils of Promise (PoP) is centrally focused on forming a global community and the support services offered in the organization’s programs have never been more important. While primary schools in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos remain closed and local ministries work to determine when it is safe to re-open, PoP and global non-profit peers are just a few of the many agencies that continue to offer support to local education systems and determine ways in which established impact can evolve in these challenging circumstances. At PoP, this means continuing to show our commitment to communities by reaching out over the phone or through text messages to learn how people are doing. It means understanding that people could be experiencing a great deal of stress and/or trauma. PoP continues to show up for those who are part of the organization’s global community and helps them adjust to the needs of today and tomorrow.

Photo description: A student in Guatemala washes their hands at a PoP built school
Photo credit: Amanda Brown

All of those involved in designing and implementing PoP programs are hard at work determining what existing plans are still possible and what adjustments need to be made. This contingency planning has demanded a great deal of flexibility and creativity due to the unpredictable nature of the months to come. Our brilliant teams in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos and New York City are finding ways to keep communities safe and remaining in touch. Currently, PoP’s response to COVID-19 includes the following:

  • All global teams remain in contact with teachers to offer emotional support
  • Teacher Support (TS) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) teams in Ghana and Guatemala are sending WhatsApp messages to teachers about social and emotional support as well as COVID prevention, such as hand washing and other hygiene best practices
  • Program Managers and their teams are creating a strategy for missed workshops and coaching sessions and how to deliver TS and WASH content when national governments reopen schools 
  • All teams are working from home developing training plans, entering data and focusing on professional development.
  • Conversations regarding program pilots and expansion plans for the next school year continue 
  • Beginning on May 4th, PoP Ghana will begin a mass text messaging program to remain engaged with teachers, with messages focusing on WASH practices, reading at home, and national resources such as COVID-19 information and access to hotlines for those seeking help and safety from domestic violence
  • Distribution of surveys to community members to understand current need, impact of COVID-19 and outlook on the future
Photo description: Students in Ghana wash their hands using a PoP providing handwashing station
Photo credit: Nick Onken

PoP is also leveraging a community of experts who specialize in education in emergencies through the formation of a COVID-19 Response Committee as a part of Graphite: Impact Council. Among many topics, these individuals are assisting PoP in forming strategies around how to best support students and teachers when schools reopen and how to engage parents to continue sending students to school. On April 16th, the COVID-19 Response Committee held its first meeting to discuss potential solutions and share resources to ensure PoP’s response is well-informed. They want to ensure that efforts are not wasted in creating programmatic adaptations that are already being implemented by other organizations. Outcomes from this meeting have been shared with PoP Country Directors and action plans are in development.

PoP carries forth a stance of both optimism and hopefulness combined with caution and focus that will deliver innovative and audacious solutions to help PoP-supported communities bounce back from these difficult circumstances. There is a humble understanding that recovery cannot be done alone and times of crisis call for collaboration. PoP is working hard to join forces with other non-profit peers and local governments to ensure coordination with the broader response efforts and minimize the risk of overreach. The direct outcomes of PoP’s impact in the coming months may look different than historical achievements, but the underlying goal of bringing together a global community to provide students with a quality education in safe and healthy learning environments has never been more important.