In their own words: An Angolan aid worker’s COVID-19 playbookAug 12, 2020
José Vilar, a 54-year-old father of six, has been working for People in Need (PIN) in Angola since 2015. After more than four years focusing on community health, Vilar recently began working on the project Chitanda: Resilient Agriculture Systems to improve Food and Nutritional Security, implemented in Huíla province, together with national NGO ASD – Development and Solidarity Action, and funded by the European Union, under FRESAN programme which is run by Camões Institute.
His new position, which requires regular field visits to help small farmers improve their agricultural techniques, has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “During our first activity in the field, we shared information about COVID-19 and told people that there was no cure for the disease,” says Vilar. During these meetings, “the community didn’t know about COVID-19. But when we made our second trip to the field, the municipal and communal administrations were already disseminating information about the disease, so in follow-up visits, we’ll probably see everybody more organised [with distancing].”
When asked how villagers have reacted to messages about COVID-19, Vilar says: “Those with higher education levels believe that it’s possible to prevent COVID-19. On the other hand, people with lower levels of schooling say it doesn’t exist, that it’s a lie. It’s the same in the cities; everyone has a different view. But when the information comes from a reliable source, especially an NGO like us that is there to inform and support them, they believe in it.”
COVID-19 rules at home
At home, Vilar’s family has adopted essential measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “As a general rule, whenever someone leaves home, the first thing we do is put on the mask. Even the youngest members of my family know that. Sometimes, when the adults are in a hurry and forget the mask, the child says right away, ‘Dad, you forgot your mask.’ And when you return, you should wash your hands with water and soap.”
Vilar lives with 11 other family members, eight of whom are at home because schools have been closed. “My sister-in-law studies teaching, so we’ve given her the mission of helping the children, separating them into groups [by school level],” he says. As Vilar has also studied pedagogy, he stays involved in the children’s education and helps his sister-in-law.
Vilar believes that “even though there are still some gaps in compliance with the precautionary measures, they’re already part of people’s daily routine.” He adds: “Whether or not we are living with the coronavirus, biosafety measures are very effective [and should continue to be followed] even after life returns to normal.”