COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in both public health crisis and a humanitarian crisis, affecting the lives, health and livelihoods of many people around the world. Since 11 March 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Turkey, the government introduced a series of containment measures. While restrictions have currently been eased and vaccination started in Turkey, preventative measures continue to be in place. With the support of IFRC, TRCS has developed a national COVID-19 response plan, focusing on three operational priorities aligned with the IFRC global approach:
• Health, and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH);
• Addressing the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19;
• Institutional strengthening and preparedness.
With the current protracted nature of the refugee situation in Turkey, many of the existing refugee and host populations' vulnerability has increased further with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the global IFRC appeal in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and under the Community Based Migration Programme (CBMP), TRCS has been supporting refugee and host community members through risk communication and community engagement, health and Psychosocial Support (PSS), and livelihoods.
This report aims to present the main findings of the lessons learned workshop that was held on 17, 18 and 21 June to discuss the challenges and best practices as well as to reflect on key lessons, mainly focusing on the first year of the COVID-19 operation by TRCS in Turkey. The outcomes and findings of this workshop will be useful in TRCS` response to similar situations and disasters in the future. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the lessons learned workshop was held online via Zoom platform. Thematic sessions included the main areas of operation, namely Community Engagement and Accountability (CEA), Health/PSS and Livelihoods.
Remote community engagement and accountability: the importance of responding adequately to the “infodemic” during the COVID-19 pandemic
• The main highlights related to CEA activities included the importance of working in coordination with Health and Communication Units during the COVID-19 health crisis, which was critical in conveying the necessary messages to the affected populations to promote positive health behaviours to save and improve lives.
• Conducting quality data collection, focus group discussions (FGDs) and surveys proved to be useful in understanding the communities` information needs, which accordingly helped shape activities to address those needs.
• Some recommendations for Advisory Committees (AC) were around increasing the representativeness of the AC members to reach more diverse people and accelerating the process of having AC members participate in field activities to increase effectiveness, ownership and trust. AC meetings should be thematic with a pre-determined topic discussing one topic in hand in-depth rather than touching on many issues in one sitting. Meetings should be conducted in cooperation with public authorities to strengthen the advocacy activities and for long-term and durable solutions. Incorporating Q&A with Provincial Directorate of Migration Management (PDMM) and District Governorships were the best practices conducted in this regard during an advisory committee meeting.
• Collecting feedback, complaints, questions, and rumours through KOBO toolbox and analysing the findings were useful in terms of continuously adapting activities according to beneficiaries` needs during the dynamic COVID-19 process. More awareness should be created to encourage feedback sharing and more trainings should be provided for the staff to maximize the use of the feedback system.
• Information dissemination, seminars and awareness raising activities proved instrumental in reaching a lot of people through online platforms. It was recommended that the TRCS sharing on social media can be made more frequent; WhatsApp usage can be made more professional and systematic. Interactivity is important to make information sharing more effective for example through AC or even through community meetings rather than only providing printed materials.
Lessons learned from conducting health and PSS activities online
• As for Health and PSS activities during COVID-19, despite many difficulties, most activities continued through online platforms throughout the pandemic. Consultations were conducted through either phone or conferencing tools such as Zoom. However, many challenges were faced regarding the beneficiaries` limited access to necessary equipment and internet. It was also difficult to build the trust and ensure the confidentiality during the consultations.
Since not only health but all activities were moved to online platforms suddenly, there were gaps in equipment provision for the staff as well.
• There were also challenges related to the remote working modality in the beginning, as staff were not able to effectively communicate and coordinate with other units. Despite these challenges, staff adapted over time and started to experience many advantages. One advantage of remote work was related to capacity building opportunities including access to many trainings remotely. Staff received support from both the HQ office and from other regions remotely.
• Continuation of TRCS` health activities was very much appreciated by beneficiaries and many institutions. TRCS were able to fill in gaps in hospitals by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Despite many challenges, regular health screenings and referrals continued by extending extra support to beneficiaries during the COVID-19 health crisis. Health seminars and information sessions continued online and were found more useful for some beneficiaries as it was easy to attend, eliminating the transportation and childcare needs when women wanted to join those at the CCs.
• Distribution of hygiene kits was important to understand the needs on the ground and to track the newborns and support their families. While most of the health activities were conducted online, some activities required the staff to be in the field such as hygiene kit, food kit, and PPE distributions. Therefore, TRCS, taking all preventive measures, was also active in the field since the beginning of Covid-19 health crisis. Field staff who has been working in the field since the first day of the crisis appreciated the support extended to them by the Management and by the TRCS psychologists/psychiatrists.
Adapting livelihood activities to COVID-19: the success of mask production
• TRCS was quick in adapting activities to the new realities that came to life with the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the urgent mask needs in the early days of the pandemic, production started in the houses of the sewing course participants. To address standardization issues and with the relaxation of the pandemic measures, workspaces were created in the CCs with all necessary precautions in place. Additional steps were taken to ensure the highest quality and standard, including the procurement of a mask fabric cutting machine, which was then distributed to other locations.
Sewing course trainers were available to provide guidance to participants at all times. Distribution of these masks was appreciated by the health institutions and beneficiaries when they most needed them.
• As for the vocational language courses, TRCS had made a lot of investment prior to the pandemic when suddenly these courses had to be provided online. Necessary steps were immediately taken to select the most appropriate tools and reaching out to beneficiaries. The courses were successfully organized and many beneficiaries graduated after completing the courses and getting their certificates. They found it useful when applying for jobs.