The Covid-19 pandemic is a moment of unprecedented uncertainty and stress. We don’t know how long these dramatic changes to our lives will last. The one constant is the importance of family and what each and every one of us must do, to protect our loved ones.
Today, as we celebrate the International Day of Families, I would like to take a moment to emphasize the duty we owe to our families, and by extension to our communities, to stay safe and healthy.
Looking at the significant steps taken by our country to flatten the curve of this pandemic, and minimising its impact on the well-being of every citizen – especially the most vulnerable among us – one can’t help but feel a great sense of gratitude, for the progress that has been achieved.
However, with gratitude, should also come a sense of responsibility to protect the gains made thus far.
Indeed, we must put in the most crucial element for success: self-discipline. The fight against coronavirus is far from over, so we cannot afford to put our guards down.
The choices that you and I make each day, determine how well our country navigates through this challenging period. While health instructions are fundamental, there are additional positive attitudes and actions, we can all adopt to strengthen our families and our wider community in the time ahead.
First, reconnect. In Rwanda, the call to keep each other safe has resulted in many of us working from home and the closure of schools until September. Balancing work and family obligations is never easy, but it is doubly hard when it occurs in the same physical space. But let’s look for the positive aspect, and see how we can use these circumstances to find new ways of supporting each other and thriving together as a unit.
I invite you to see an opportunity to forge deeper connections within our families. Use this time to play, educate, and share stories with the younger, and older ones around us. This creates lasting memories that bring families closer together, and also reduces the feelings of stress and tension that we are all experiencing.
Second, take care of each other. Let’s pledge to be more forgiving, considerate, and patient within our homes. The effectiveness of our response to the pandemic is dependent not only on our discipline as citizens, but also on the patience and compassion we demonstrate to our family members. Adversity calls upon our inner strength to set a positive tone in our homes that fosters a sense of harmony and stability for those who depend on us.
As we cannot physically embrace those we love, in the way we are used to, we find ourselves showing it differently, through extra acts of kindness and consideration. If you can’t visit, call on the phone or send a message. If you can’t invite people for a meal, prepare some special treats and send them to your loved ones.
Make sure household chores are shared equally within the family. The extra burdens should not just fall on our mothers’ shoulders. Let us also remember to be especially mindful of the single-parent households around us, and give them special attention. I also call upon all Rwandans to continue giving special consideration to genocide survivors and their families, during this on-going commemoration period.
We should also remain alert to the risk of gender-based violence and inequality. No one should ever feel unsafe in their own home. If you or someone you know is having this experience, do not hesitate to contact the nearest Isange One Stop Centre for advice and support, or call 112.
Third, serve others. A wonderful way to come together as a family is to help others in the community, for example older neighbours who live alone, or families who have lost significant income, or who have special-needs children. Do what you can to help older relatives and neighbours so they do not have to go outside for their basic needs, since they are more vulnerable to severe forms of Covid.
Finally, plan for the future. Learning and studying must be refocused within the family until schools reopen in September. Don’t let children fall behind. Read to your children, or have them read to you; challenge them to write their own stories; and do math games online or in a workbook. Take full advantage of the many online resources, such as the one developed by the Rwanda Education Board (REB), to help kids keep their minds and skills sharp (http://elearning.reb.rw).
Last but not least, do make time for regular physical exercise.
As for young people, I urge you to make full use of the knowledge at your fingertips to gather and share accurate information on Covid-19, and its prevention, to ensure the safety of your family and those around you. This is the moment to take on new responsibilities.
Uncertainty does not have to be cause for fear.
– If we continue to exercise self-discipline in all of our actions – big and small, while remembering the importance of social distancing, washing our hands, and properly wearing masks in public;
– If we continue strengthening our families and communities through this ordeal;
I have no doubt our country will emerge more resilient and capable than ever before.