human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Life in lockdown: Nurturing each other in Denmark

Denmark closed down quite early on, before other European states. It happened very suddenly: I had just returned from Uganda, and my colleague was still there, when the government announced the lockdown of Denmark, closed schools, borders and workplaces.

Along with my Head of International Aid, Head of the National Team and Head of Finance, we summoned the team and asked everyone to go home and work from there. Luckily, we are reasonably well equipped for this, everyone has a laptop and a mobile with enough data.

In the following weeks our international team has been busy supporting our partners around the world, reprogramming and fundraising for the COVID-19 response. The Danish Minister for Development, Rasmus Prehn, was very engaged early on. He asked the civil societies, among them Caritas, what was needed for a rapid response, and he managed to secure quite impressive solidarity funds to help us reach the poorest among our partners. At the same time, he allowed strategic partners like Caritas greater flexibility within our agreement with the MFA.

Our national team had to quickly reorganise everything. We have a counselling office, staffed by volunteering social workers, and we had to quickly turn that into a phone service, rather than an office you can visit. We quickly realised that a lot of elderly people and people at risk were isolated and might need help. We were also incredibly blessed that The Association of Young Catholics in Denmark approached us and asked to be of service.  Within days we organised the infrastructure, ethical guidelines, health guidelines, documents, etc. and were able to geographically cover the whole country. Together the volunteers speak around 15 languages from around the world, and though the helpers were at first mainly young Catholics, other volunteers have joined as well.

We miss each other as colleagues, and we miss all our lovely partners, volunteers, and we miss mass! But we are fine, and in a way, many of us have become closer through digital media. Our elders club, which for obvious reasons cannot meet, has become very active in WhatsApp groups and I get very heartwarming messages of how it does online line dancing, cooking and chatting. Our prayer groups have met in spirit rather than in church and we have had huge support from our volunteers in the parishes. When the lockdown happened, we had only just started our Lent appeal for people of the Bidibidi refugee camp in northern Uganda. As churches closed and every fundraiser planned was cancelled, I was very, very aware that the lack of funds would be disastrous to our partners in Uganda. We set up online appeals and fundraisers, and miraculously, we actually managed to raise the same as last year’s Lent appeal. I was so relieved!

When I was in Uganda just before the lockdown, I was visiting a cooperative in Arua and they were farming the most beautiful trees. I got a little ‘overexcited’ about the trees and a farmer gave me a seedling. Stupidly I forgot the seedling in the car, but our brilliant partners managed to get it back to me. The seedling was too big for my bag, so back at the hotel in Kampala I borrowed a dull knife in the kitchen and I completely maltreated the poor seedling, chopped it up and squeezed into a small water bottle, which I had found at my bed side. In this tiny water bottle, the seedling travelled and lived for almost a week before finally arriving at my home in Copenhagen. By that time, it looked nothing like the happy seedling I had initially received from the partner and I was pretty sure it had died. But I stuck it in some soil and put it on my windowsill and during the lockdown it came to life and is now a beautiful tiny tree, far from home. I enjoy caring for it every day, and this is one of the little things that have kept me going.

By now we have established a Caritas lockdown modus operandi, which I think works for all of us. We all respond differently to the crisis and we all have very different circumstance at home, and thus we all adapt in different ways. I feel there is room for that and that colleagues are good at calling each other for just a chat. However, I cannot wait to see everyone back in the office! We have accumulated a HUGE back log of celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries (one employee has been here for ten years this week), and even a few child births, so I think we will need to do some sort of a party when we get back!