Kyrgyzstan – Working remotely
“My last major activity in Bishkek for this year was a Round table discussion on legal services to victims of gender crimes on March 13. The high-level event was a closing one for an interesting project, it gathered over 50 participants and took place literally during the last hours of normal working conditions.
On the next day I flew to Amsterdam to join my daughter and husband. It was a long -planned short trip, my return ticket to Bishkek was for March 22 but I never got to use it. During that week events took a very rapid and sharp turn resulting from COVID-19 pandemia. Lockdown was introduced both in Europe and in Kyrgyzstan, international flights were cancelled, and live activities were banned. A new and challenging period that proved longer than originally expected, started for me and my colleagues, as it did for millions of people.
At first it was mainly waiting to see where this new situation will lead us. I actually enjoyed being at home, so did my family, and our two dogs were, I supposed, the happiest. But after a week we held an urgent online meeting with the ROLPRO2 team to assess the circumstances and mark down future steps. Our reaction was immediate. Working from home was not only recommendable but also inevitable so we had to come up with a Mitigation plan instead of the Action Plan approved by our Steering Committee.
The Action plan had to be postponed to better times. Three high-level study visits to France, Romania and Bulgaria had to be cancelled. Several missions of European experts and trainings in Kyrgyzstan were also put aside, to wait for lockdown to be lifted. I would like to note the complete understanding with which these cancellations were met by our experts, partners, beneficiaries and participants.
The Mitigation plan was elaborated within a couple of days, discussed with partners and management, and immediately launched. We focused on what could be done at home and online. Live training was replaced by one held on MS Teams or Skype for business. Short-term experts were still mobilised, not on missions to Bishkek but at home, on developing materials for trainings and consultation sessions. EU experts worked together with their Kyrgyz counterparts in discussing and developing concept notes, training modules, draft laws, analyses, etc. We have actually produced an impressive number of outputs which not only prepare us for live events once this becomes possible but are also important outputs by themselves. To list but a few: Comparative analyses on the methodology for anti-corruption expertise of draft laws, at the request of Parliament; a concept on initial training for advocates; materials for consultations with the self-governing bodies of the judiciary; training modules for judges and for prosecutors on priority topics, etc. The Phase 1 of the elaboration of the online training platform for the High school of justice was finalised, both in substance and administratively. The database for the Training centre for prosecutors was finalised and presented.
It has been a real challenge for me and I have to admit I enjoyed it. My initial concerns and fears that I will spend weeks being inactive and bored, and that work will lag behind , were quickly dispersed. I have days when I am busier than if I was in the office – in fact, it is like that on most days! I have a good amount of work, to which I added daily coordination chats and email exchanges with my national expert Zalina, my JCI Manager Armelle Giraud, weekly team meetings and monthly management meetings, frequent discussions with experts and beneficiaries, and occasional participation in online events organised by other donors and projects. Most of my colleagues work from their home in Bishkek but there is no difference between us, distance working is organised along the same lines regardless of where you are.
Not to forget, of course, that being at home means there is an unimaginable amount of house work, shopping, cooking, walking and educating the dogs, especially the puppy who arrived to The Netherlands with me in March, and last but not least, spend some quality time with my husband and daughter. We do not get many chances for that, in a family of expats, and we did the most of it.
No wonder I am ready to go to bed no later than 22h…My day starts at 6am, or earlier, when we have a training in Bishkek starting at 9 or 10am!
Now that the Mitigation plan comes to a kind of closing, as we had planned it to cover the period through June, it seems we need to develop another one. Lockdown measures are likely to be reintroduced in Kyrgyzstan and returning to Bishkek moves further in the future, possibly September. Mixed feelings towards that, with the positive perspective of spending more time with family (oh, God, and dogs!), exploring new formats of cooperation and work, and negative aspects related to limited live social contacts, further postponing activities which are essential to our Programme, travel limitations, and of course the risk associated with any live interaction and communication.
However, the past three months have reassured me and my colleagues that we can handle this, and well. The house is re-arranged into three separate offices, for two professionals and one IB student, so that all online communication can go on undisturbed. Thanks to email, whatsapp, skype, MS teams, zoom, and all other means and platforms for distance working, the JCI component of the ROLPRO2 Programme has been able to move ahead, be useful, keep within priorities, and be well prepared to switch to “normal” business as soon as circumstances would allow for it. Indeed, it is a cloud, but we have managed to find its many silver linings.”
Mrs Radost Toftisova-Matheron