Selvan Antony, APCOM
It’s Selvan here! I am originally from India, and started working with APCOM from 2015, which is now a second family to me. Here in APCOM, I’m working as a Programme Officer. I feel lucky to work in APCOM because my colleagues here treat me like family, they are always ready to support, stand next to me during hard times, care for me when I am feeling low. Yes, you guessed it right. I am lucky. Since 2015, this has been the hardest year because the COVID-19 outbreak has affected my personal and professional life.
How COVID-19 outbreak affected my personal life?
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, every morning, I wake up with a feeling of stress, fear, and worry, thinking about the uncertain situation caused by COVID-19 pandemics. For quite a few days, I was overwhelmed with painful emotions and felt worst. My mental health was badly affected, and I found it very difficult to deal with. Regardless of how I felt, I always preferred working from the office (even when I had an option to work from home), as I thought this would lessen my painful emotions and improve my mental health. Hence, since day one of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been working from the office to stay away from self-isolation and kill weird thoughts. However, my office environment no longer remains the same as before – face to face meetings shifted to virtual meetings with colleagues and friends. In the past few months, I hardly met all my colleagues in person in the office.
On the other hand, the situation in my home country (India) is getting critical, and the area where my house is located falls under the containment zone. My mother (aged 76) staying by herself in the containment zone in Mumbai is confined within four walls in amid of COVID-19 lockdowns. Most ingredients are missing from her kitchen. A few days before, she ran out of her medicine. She rarely gets a chance to go out to buy essentials, and most times, she returns home with very few items because grocery stores and pharmacies across her street remain closed most times. My other family members also stopped visiting my mom because of curfews – and now she is left with no helping hands. Every day I call her and ask her, “Is everything ok with you,” she says, “I am perfectly fine.” But I know she is not, because she has no one to talk to, and left without helping hands in amid of COVID-19. I wish I were there with her to help her in this challenging situation. All these painful thinking has given rise to stress, worries, and anxiety to an already seriously stressful situation. To reduce my stress level and anxiety, I often talk with friends (in India) on the phone and convey my emotions with them, and sometimes watch a few online inspirational videos. After looking at the staff’s current mental health status, APCOM hosted an online Mental Health Session for its staff – this session was very useful; it gave me some tips on how to deal with mental health problems.
How COVID-19 outbreak affected my professional life?
COVID-19 pandemic outbreak also has affected my professional work. After the COVID-19 outbreak, emergency situation was declared in Thailand, and strict rules are recommended to be followed, which affected the roll-out of the SKPA project, which is supported by the Global Fund with AFAO as the principal recipient. This project operates in eight countries, to scale up and promote HIV prevention services for communities most affected by HIV, to stop HIV transmission and AIDS-related death. This project has allowed me to assist partner organizations to roll out community-based monitoring work in their own country. Even partner organizations (based in other countries in Asia) have been facing similar challenges, and this caused them to cancel or postpone SKPA activities to a future date. All these situations have increased my stress level, and it also affected my mental health.
Despite all challenges, I still try to do my best to connect with partner organizations through online platforms (Zoom links, Skype meetings, etc.). During the Zoom meeting, the partners shared their concerns that they are facing challenges and delays in the procurement of goods and services amid COVID-19 lockdowns for the implementation of the projects. Some SKPA partners said that not all key population and community-based organisations have a chance to join virtual meetings, and it is costly. They have requested the principal recipient and regional networks to review the ongoing situation in the SKPA countries and develop mitigation strategies to help them address challenges related to SKPA programme implementation. Besides discussing the work, this platform provided space to participants to discuss other issues, including issues that have affected the community’s health and well-being as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. I think that the Global Fund should allow flexibility for timelines in project implementation.
After attending a series of Zoom meetings or calls, I have also learned some tips on how to look good on video calls or Zoom calls. (Tips are; Fill your face with bright spotlight, and pick the right background!)
What next after COVID-19?
I really don’t know how long this will take. I comfort myself by reminding myself that this situation will end at some point. There will be a day where life will slowly go back to “normal” I will go back to India and see my mother, go for dinner with friends at the open restaurant, implement project activities, etc. We will get through this.