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The negative and positive effects of the Coronavirus pandemic in Al-Quds

Maya De Vries Kedem26 August 2020

Blog post by Laila Abed Rabho and Maya de Vries

This blog post is available to read in English as well as Arabic (please scroll down for the Arabic language version).

As home-based self-isolation has become the most common way of avoiding the COVID-19 virus, in many households, anxiety has set in as a result of the acceleration of the spread of the pandemic around the world.

Although quarantining at home will not prevent the spread of the virus altogether, it does help distribute the number of cases over a longer period of time, which is important from the perspective of the distribution of health resources and the provision of medical care to those who need it. However, home quarantine has both negative and positive consequences, at least according to some of the people in Al-Quds that we talked to. On the one hand, it may lead to a breakdown in social contact, especially for individuals who are most threatened with isolation and loneliness, including the elderly, people with special needs or those suffering from various conditions. At the same time, the Corona crisis has helped us see the elderly differently. They are our family and the family of our friends, as well as being the ones who have worked hard all their life provide those who come after them with a decent life – at the very least, they deserve the appreciation of others as well as the guarantee that they will be safe.

Recently, many local initiatives have emerged to help elderly people who are unable to shop on their own or who need help with household matters. Also, a large number of young people have committed to self-isolating at home to protect the elderly from the risk of infection with the Coronavirus. This has shown us that in times of crisis, we need each other more than ever.

Life before and after the pandemic set in

The elderly are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. The community of elderly people in Dar el Hawa, which is a village in Al-Quds and the fieldsite for our research, used to regularly go to a club for seniors, where they would spend time doing various activities, whether this is attending religious, cultural, educational and educational lectures or just having conversations with one other. However, because of warnings from the Ministry of Health, they were forced to stay in their homes, which negatively impacted both their mental and physical health, mostly due to the lack of direct contact with their friends and children. However, friends and children did check in on them via their smartphones, knowing that, during the Coronavirus pandemic, they were likely to undergo physical and hormonal changes as well as being psychologically affected (and more likely to develop depression and anxiety).

In general, locally, aid and donations to the needy are offered at specific times, especially in the month of Ramadan or during festive periods, but the pandemic has fostered a sense of social solidarity as some families experienced financial and economic difficulties and donations and money were collected and distributed to those most in need, as a way of topping up the aid coming from government institutions. Grandmothers who regularly took care of their grandchildren and who used to go out shopping or for breakfast or lunch with one another from time to time and who would visit each other’s homes to have coffee at least once a week are now confined to their homes, avoiding going out because they believe the virus is deadly as this is what they hear on the news on a regular basis. In addition, communication between them has been restricted to phone calls. All of these factors have had a psychological impact on their daily life.

On a more positive note, however, some of them tried to fill their free time by making food and sweets and selling them online for some additional income.

Examples of baked goods made and sold during lockdown. There were also those for whom the quarantine meant that they had the opportunity to escape daily stress and rearrange their thoughts – a rare opportunity for calm. It also gave others the opportunity to discover some of their hidden talents – after all, experts say that boredom is what encourages innovation. Some women have embroidered masks in order to encourage their use. In addition, a woman had crocheted a strap that had the benefit of better fixing the mask onto the face.

Women trying on masks with embroidered motifs. Photo credit: Anadolu News Agency. The photo can be found here.

Loss of freedom, the COVID-19 stigma and spending more time with family members

If we look at the negative impact of the virus on individuals, families and society, we can observe that some older customs and traditions within the community may have contributed to this. For example, there have been cases of people in the village being infected with coronavirus and not disclosing it, as doing so would be seen as a mark of shame and would make them the target of bullying and mockery, which might, in turn, have a negative effect on their psychological wellbeing. When this practice becomes widespread, it can lead to an increase in cases, even though there have also been many examples of responsible and conscious groups that have warned everyone around them when they contracted the virus in order to protect their families and members of their community (especially those who have elderly people at home) by preventing them from getting infected.

The lockdown has also made our research participants feel a certain loss of freedom, as they are forced to stay in their homes, which has contributed to increasing their anxiety and tension.  On the other hand, there were also members of the community who found this to be positive because it gave them the opportunity to spend time with their family members, dedicating more time than ever to their families.  Parents who normally work full-time were finally able to spend time and play with them. Indeed, some of the members of the Dar el Hawa community turned the free time they had with their children into a positive, setting up different activities for them, including sports, games or even simply playing pranks on unsuspecting family members – they did not let their children get bored.

Whilst preoccupied with work and life matters, some may forget and others may ignore their social relationships, whether this is to do with family, friends or neighbours. Some have re-evaluated the importance of friends in their life, especially during moments when they spend most of their time at home with their family. Humans are social beings, and the lockdown has caused some to reconsider their priorities.

Husbands who previously complained that their wives were neglecting the home have come to understand how much women actually do in terms of housework, especially if there are other pressures such as employment outside the home. One example of this situation was the husband of one of our research participants, who was finally able to experience how tiring it is to clean, cook, raise children and teach, in addition to working outside the home. This has led to more sharing of household duties, with the husband taking over more of the cooking and childcare. This is someone who, previously, would not see much of his kids due to his job, which requires him to work long hours, often returning late in the evening.

Silver linings and benefits of the pandemic: online learning and sharing of household duties

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a positive effect on young people and low-income families who do not have the financial means to help their children get married, for example. Young people who were about to get married but wanted to comply with advice coming from the Ministry of Health (which warned against gathering in large numbers) were able to hold smaller-scale events with a small number of attendees in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The pandemic has meant that people gathering to celebrate a specific event were able to save on the cost of hosting these, whether we are talking about lunches or other celebratory events.

In addition, we must not forget about one of the other benefits of the pandemic (perhaps one of the most important ones), which is the fact that pupils moved entirely to distance learning after schools were physically shut. In Al-Quds, this has led to an improvement in terms of families adopting modern technology such as Zoom and online exams. Although distance learning has improved pupils’ skills and abilities in terms of using computers and smartphones, it has also had a negative impact on families who have multiple children but did not have enough devices to participate in the educational process. Providing the necessary tools for educational participation is something that needs to be taken into account by the Ministry of Education if it wants to increase educational inclusion.

In Al-Quds, as elsewhere, the Coronavirus pandemic has had both negative and positive effects on all segments of society.

 

الاثار السلبية والايجابية لجائحة كورونا

 

يسيطر القلق على كثير من الناس نتيجة تسارع وتيرة انتشار فيروس كورونا المستجد حول العالم، حيث بات العزل المنزلي طريقة لابد منها لتجنب الإصابة به.

الحجر المنزلي لن يمنع انتشار الفيروس، لكنه يساعد في توزيع عدد الحالات على فترة زمنية أطول، ما يجعله مهما بالنسبة لتوزيع الموارد الصحية وتقديم الرعاية الطبية لمن يحتاجون إليها

لكن الحجر المنزلي له تبعات سلبية وايجابية بحسب البعض، إذ قد يؤدي إلى انهيار التواصل الاجتماعي، خصوصا بالنسبة للأفراد الأكثر تهديدا بالعزلة والوحدة، بينهم المسنون وذوو الاحتياجات الخاصة أو من يعانون من أمراض

أزمة كورونا جعلتنا ننظر للمسنين بشكل مختلف، فهم أهلنا وأهل أصدقائنا، هم من عملوا بجهد في شبابهم ليوفروا لمن بعدهم حياة كريمة، ولذلك يستحقون من الآخرين التقدير والحفاظ على سلامتهم

فقد ظهرت في الأونة الأخيرة العديد من المبادرات لمساعدة كبار السن غير القادرين على التسوق بمفردهم أو من يحتاجون للمساعدة في تدبير أمور المنزل. كما التزم عدد كبير من الشباب بالعزل المنزلي لحماية الأكبر سناً من خطر الإصابة بعدوى فيروس كورونا. وهو ما أظهر لنا أنه في وقت الأزمات يحتاج كل منا للآخر.

فالمسنين اعتادوا على نمط حياة معين فقد كان كبار السن يذهبون الى نادي للمسنين لقضاء وقت لل ترفيه وفعاليات مختلفة كحضور محاضرات دينية ،ثقافية،توعوية وتبادل الاحاديث فيما بينهم لكن بسبب التحذيرات من وزارة الصحة  التزموا بيوتهم مما اصر سلبيا على صحتهم النفسية والبدنية بسبب قلة تواصلهم المباشر مع اصدقائهم وابنائهم وكان فقط الاطمئنان عليهم عبر الهاتف الذكي علما بان المسنين دون جائحة كورونا بسبب التغييرات الجسدية وتغير الهرمونات وكبار السن يتاثرون نفسيا وبتعرضون للكابة والقلق  فما بالكم بوجود جائحة كورونا وتاثيرها على نفسيتهم

بشكل عام كانت المساعدات والتبرع للمحتاجين يكون في وقت معين خاصة في شهر رمضان او في فترات الاعياد لكن في جائحة كورونا ظهر التكافل الاجتماعي والشعور بالاسر المحتاجة فكان اهل البلد يجمعون المونة واحيانا النقود لتوزيعها على المحتاجين بالاضافة الى المعونات التي كانت تاتي من المؤسسات الحكومية

الجدات اللواتي يحتضن احفادهن كن يخرجن احيانا للتسوق مع بعضهن او لتناول وجبات فطور او غداء سويا واحيانا يتبادلن الزيارات لاحتساء القهوة يوم بالاسبوع في منزل كل واحدة مرة بالاسبوع لكن بعد جائحة  كورونا والخوف من هذا الفيروس الذي يعتقد البعض انه فتاك بسبب تهزيل ما يقال عنه في محطات التواصل الاجتماعي، فقد التزمن بيوتهن واصبح التواصل بينهم عن طريق الهاتف فقط وهذا له اثر نفسي على الحياة اليومية لهؤلاء النساء

ومن ناحية اخرى  جزء منهن حاول التغلب على وقت الفراغ بعمل انواع معينة من الماكولات والحلويات وعرضها عن طريق الاونلاين من اجل بيعها وتمكين انفسهن اقتصاديا

وقسم منهن أتاح لهم العزل المنزلي بعض الهدوء في حياتهم، حيث أعطاهم الفرصة للابتعاد عن الضغط اليومي وإعادة ترتيب أفكارهم. كما أتاح للبعض الآخر فرصة اكتشاف بعض المواهب الدفينة لديهم، حيث يقول الخبراء إن الملل قد يدفع البعض للابتكار.، حيث قامت بعض النساء بالتطريز على الكمامات بهدف الترغيب في استعمالها بالاضافة لهذا فقد قامت ايضا احدى النساء باختراع قطعة من الكروشيه (صنع يدوي )لتثبيت الكمامة عليها

لقد كان للعادات والتقاليد البالية أثر سلبي على الأفراد والعائلات والمجتمع من قبل المصابين بفيروس كورونا، والسبب هو ان من يتبين لديه أنه مصاب بفيروس كورونا لا يقوم بالإفصاح عن ذلك باعتبار هذا وسم عار عليه وعيب حيث يخاف من التنمر والاستهزاء اضافة الى توجيه كلام قد يؤثر على نفسيته وهو اعتقاده بأن الكثير سوف يتشمت به فهناك فئة لم تعلن عن اصابتها مما ادى الى زيادة الحالات وهناك فئة اخرى مسؤولة وواعية تعلن عن اصابتها من أجل تجنيب عائلاتهم وابناء مجتمعهم من الاصابة وخاصة من لديه كبار سن في البيت مثل الأب والأم والاجداد.

ان الحجر أيضا  احسهم بفقدان الحرية لأنهم ماكثون في بيوتهم مرغمين لا بخاطرهم وباختيارهم مما يزيد من قلقهم وتوترهم ولكن من ناحية اخرى هناك الكثير الذين وجدوا في ذلك ايجابية بسبب الفرصة التي توفرت لهم للمكوث مع أفراد أسرهم حيث الدفء العائلي وهذا شيء جميل حيث أصبح وقت للأب والام العاملين أن يجلسوا مع أطفالهم واللعب معهم وفعلا هناك من استغل الحجر بصورة ايجابية ولم يترك اطفاله يشعرون بعدم الحرية عن طريق وضع برامج لهم منها الرياضية ومنها اللعب وعمل مقالب مضحكة مع أفراد اسرته وغير ذلك..

ففي ظل الإنشغال بالعمل وأمور الحياة، قد ينسى البعض ويتجاهل آخرون علاقاته الاجتماعية سواء مع الأهل أو الأصدقاء أو الجيران. الآن تجلس الأسرة الواحدة معاً، وتظهر قيمة الأصدقاء في حياة الفرد. فالإنسان كائن اجتماعي من الدرجة الأولى، والعزل الحالي جعل البعض يعيد ترتيب أولوياته مرة أخرى.

حتى الزوج كان يتهم زوجته  دائما بالتقصير بالبيت لكن مع جائحة كورونا والحجر الصحي عرف الزوج وقدر ما تقوم به المراة من اعمال منزلية وضغوطات بالذات عندما تكون المراة عاملة خارج المنزل

واصبح يشعر معها كم هي تتعب في داخل المنزل من تنظيف وطهي وتربية اولاد وتدريس بالاضافة الى عملها خارج البيت مما ادى الى مشاركته لها في بعض الاعمال المنزلية كالطهي والطبيخ اضافة الى الترابط الاسري والتقرب الى ابنائه ،بعد ان كان احيانا لا يراهم نتيحة خروجه من البيت مبكرا ورجوعه متاخرا

هناك اثر ايجابي لجائحة  كورونا على الشباب والاسر الفقيرة التي ليس لديها امكانيات مادية كافية من أجل اتمام فرحتها بزواج ابنائها وبسبب المصاريف الكثيرة التي يتحملها الشباب وعائلاتهم من اعباء مادية لا يقدرون عليها

استغل الشباب المرتبطين اتمام عملية فرحتهم وبالزواج ممن يرغبون متقيدين بتعاليم وزىرة الصحة بعدم التجمهر وعدم التجمع باعداد كبيرة من اجل المحافظة على سلامتهم وسلامة افراد مجتمعهم وبأقل التكاليف المطلوبة لتوفي الغداء والضيافة للمعازيم .

علينا ان لا ننسى الفائدة العظيمة والاهم من كل شيئ وهي أن لجائحة كورونا والتي بسببها اغلقت المدارس حيث انتقل الطلاب للتعلم عن بعد مما ادى الى تطور في تعلم  استخدام التكنولوجيا الحديثة كالزوم وتقديم الامتحانات عن طريق اون لاين مما أكسبهم مهارة وقدرة على استخدام الحاسوب والهاتف الذكي ولكن من ناحية اخرى كان لذلك اثر سلبي على العائلات التي لديها أكثر من طالب حيث لم يتوفر لديهم اجهزة كافية من الحاسوب والهواتف الذكية من أجل التواصل مع العملية التعليمية وهذا يجب ان تقوم وزارة التعليم بحله بتوفير الادوات الازمة للعملية التعليمية

هكذا نرى ان لفيروس كورونا آثار سلبية واخرى ايجابية على جميع شرائح المجتمع

How to use your smartphone: Insights from a pilot course in Dar al-Hawa

Maya De Vries Kedem6 March 2020

Blog post written by Maya de Vries and Laila Abed Rabho

Please note that the participant names used in this blog post, as well as the neighbourhood name ‘Dar al-Hawa’, have been pseudonymised for reasons of anonymity and confidentiality. Dar al-Hawa is the pseudonym for a neighbourhood of 10,000 people in al-Quds (East Jerusalem).

One of the very first observations we had in the field site of Dar al-Hawa was that most people, young and old, own a smartphone. However, when delving deeper into the ways in which they used their phones, we discovered that their digital skills were very limited, and the use of different apps other than WhatsApp, is almost non-existent. Following the goals of the ASSA project, it was clear to us that part of our fieldwork should be to enable individuals to learn and improve their digital skills – an aim also aligned with what Kurt Lewin (1964) called research action in the fieldsite.

It took us more than a year to bring everything together, including finding the right organisation, the right space, getting the timing right, and finding future participants willing to join the course. When it finally happened, we were able to create a pilot course consisting of 12 meetings running for 3.5 hours each. Each of these sessions focused on one thing only, and that is teaching students how to use a smartphone. We partnered with a local organisation called “Good Thought”, a non-profit organisation established in 2003 which aims to reduce social gaps in Israel by providing teaching technical and digital skills to underprivileged groups. Good Thought already teaches similar courses, but they are usually aimed at helping students learn how to use a computer. When we approached them, it was after having spent a long time in the fieldsite, visiting people’s homes and seeing and hearing from different individuals who told us that they don’t have computers or laptops, just smartphones. Hence, we insisted that the course should be focused only on the smartphone. Because of this, the project was effectively a pilot one for the staff of Good Thought as well.

The first meeting took place on the 25th of November at the community centre in Dar al-Hawa, where 17 people arrived to receive information about the course. Eventually, only 15 people registered to attend the course – 4 women and one man. Since the state of Israel has previously declared that it aims to encourage its population and institutes to become more ‘digital’ and thus increase ‘digital equality’[1], we were lucky to receive significant subsidies for the course, meaning each participant only paid 20 NIS for the 12 meetings (NIS = Israeli New Shekel, this is the equivalent of about £4.41).

The leading instructor was N’, a Palestinian woman from al-Quds (East Jerusalem) who is a teacher by profession. Maya de Vries was her assistant throughout the course. In terms of participation and attendance rates, the course was a big success, as more than half of the participants attended 100% of the meetings, and the second half attended around 80-90% of the meetings. This indicates that participants were pleased with the content of the meetings and found it meaningful and helpful. Throughout the course, participants shared these feelings with us and told us how happy they are to be part of it. They also shared with us the fact that this course gives them a reason to get out of the house, and reduces some of the loneliness and boredom they experience on other days of the week when they don’t have other activities planned. One of the participants,  Malak (aged 78) said the course “was something to wake up in the morning and feel happy for”. Here, the act of learning and developing digital skills as part of a group with a mutual goal provided sociality as well, which is something that can be lost in older age.

N’ and de Vries also came to learn difficult it is for individuals who do not speak Hebrew or English to control their smartphones, even if the language of the device itself was set to Arabic. During a lesson about how to use the MyVisit app (a government app assisting users in booking appointments with various formal institutes like electricity companies or the National Insurance Institute etc.), we did not manage to find an Arabic version of it. Hence, those who did not learn Hebrew or English at school were excluded from this particular lesson and completely depended on their group mates as well as N’ and De Vries, to help them.

Figure 1: The MyVisit App (in Hebrew). The smartphone is held by one of the participants. Photo by Maya de Vries (CC BY)

We also came across several government-provided apps and websites which either did not have any Arabic content or had little Arabic content. Furthermore, only 3 out of 15 participants had an email account, and many government-provided apps require email registration to use. Although now each participant has an email account, which they created as part of the course’s assignments, they still found it more difficult to use these. Thus, if the government wants to increase digital participation among different groups, they should think about Whatsapp as an easier-to-use, more functional tool.[2]

In addition to the matter of digital inequality, we also considered the sociopolitical gaps related to the geopolitical conditions of Dar al-Hawa and al-Quds in general[3]. For example, we discovered how difficult it is for this age group to both click on the touch screen as well as wait for their ‘request’ to be uploaded. Many times, we had to explain to our students that they need to be more patient and wait for the app to upload their request, or for the website to appear. We repeated this instruction until our very last meeting – we do not think there is a clear solution to it other than continuing to practice using these tools.

Figure 2: Learning how to turn on the flashlight/torch on their smartphone (Photo by Maya de Vries CC BY)

WhatsApp is the most used app on participants’ phones – they all have it and they all know how to use its basic features such as sending messages and forwarding messages and photos. Nevertheless, we dedicated two lessons to WhatsApp use, including taking photos and selfies, which were not practicalities most of the participants were familiar with. We also taught them how to create a new group and how to record messages. Following WhatsApp, the second most popular apps were Facebook Messenger and Youtube. No one had any health apps on their phone, not even apps related to their health clinic, which has an Arabic language app.

One of the ASSA project’s findings across various field sites, including Japan and Ireland, was that ‘step counter’ apps are in widespread use among the populations studied. These step counters were not used by our participants, not even the versions that are free and built into their phone, although some had heard of step counting and the fact that there was an app on their phone that did just that. No one had actually opened the app, however.

Unfortunately, 12 meetings are simply not enough to teach participants all that smartphones can offer their users. This was something our participants felt during the course as well, and during the final session, they asked to have a second round of the course so they can learn more and develop their skills by learning how to use things like digital banking as well as other features we did not have the time to teach.

Going beyond the skills taught to the participants, as we quoted Malak before, we also heard, in the final session, how happy the students were when coming to the course and learning new things that can assist them in becoming less dependent on their children and grandchildren. Such feelings around the practicalities of independence should be more present among the older population in Dar al-Hawa. Thus, by creating more similar future courses, we are also hoping to make local older people’s lives easier and happier by increasing their knowledge in the digital arena.

Figure 3: The last session’s feast: participants brought home-cooked food to celebrate their achievements during the course. Photo by Maya de Vries (CC BY)

 

 

[1] See more here (in Hebrew): https://www.gov.il/he/departments/digital_israel
[2] We hope to create a greater change and solve this problem.  At the end of March, we are meeting with a representative from the E-Government office (Mimshal Zamin in Hebrew), thus hoping to work with them on both the language gaps, specific the Arabic one, but also on other accessibility issues for older people.
[3] The asymmetry in the education system has a long history, mainly starting after the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem. For more, see the following Ir Amim report at http://www.ir-amim.org.il/sites/default/files/Education_Report_2017-Fifty_Years_of_Neglect.pdf