Adapting to service-provision during Covid-19: Anne O’Keeffe, Education and Development Officer

21 May 2020

Dr. Anne O’Keeffe is the Education and Development Officer at Ruhama.

My work has changed significantly because of the pandemic. Working from home makes for more sedentary but surprisingly full days. Activities are conducted almost exclusively online, which presents technology challenges: including how to support clients to use services such as Zoom, up-skill myself in the tech involved and cope with the frustration of bad internet connection. The more fundamental challenge, however, is still to deliver a quality service to clients in this strange new world: where people are experiencing high levels of stress, fear and uncertainty. For now, I’m glad to have more time for this job. I usually work part-time but with other professional commitments on hold, I give two extra days – unpaid- per week to Ruhama.

Since mid-March, we have been offering more classes. New elements include a self-care programme led by my colleague Poliana and a parent support group. Regular services now morphed online include our ICT class, the trauma-healing and wellness programme and a STEPS (Steps to Excellence for Personal Success) group. At times, the transition has been bumpy, but it has been worthwhile in terms of fun, social connectedness and experiential learning. Most of our one-to-one classes have continued remotely thanks to our volunteer tutors. Meanwhile our guidance counselling service has been particularly in demand as women explore their options and plan for the future.

I have been lucky to travel outside Dublin to deliver care packages. This has given me the rare lockdown luxury of talking and working with service-users, while still observing social distancing. Meanwhile at the home office, plenty of women are getting in touch: some have tested positive for the virus, some have lost jobs or cannot work because they have no childcare, others are in social isolation – or not – in direct provision. They are looking for help to access free courses online, complete studies without access to libraries or PCs, update CVs, improve their literacy, work on their education or career plans, stay positive, well and active in what seems like groundhog day.

Our COVID-19 world has taught me much. I now realise that we can respond and innovate even more quickly and effectively than I thought. This is both exciting and challenging. Looking ahead, I know we can keep improving our education service: to respond to the needs of our service-users. One goal is to offer more and better services online so as to provide greater opportunities to more women across the country. To do this, however, we need more resources to bridge an ever-increasing digital divide. Technology apart, though, what is abundantly clear is that we humans are social beings: so I look forward to being together again in real space, breathing the same (hopefully virus-free) air, sharing a cuppa, working and learning face-to-face again. Here’s to good days ahead!


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