COVID-19 Stories of Change: Open Hands, Botswana

Jan 20, 2021

COVID-19 Stories of Change: Open Hands, Botswana

These are testing times for the mental health projects we are working with. Each has had to think quickly, adapt & overcome challenges due to COVID-19. Each has had a unique journey, which we're going to share through our COVID-19 Stories of Change series.

Open Hands, under the parent organisation, Friends of Diversity, supports and advocates for the mental health needs of LGBTQI+ communities in Botswana. Open Hands runs self-care groups and works to raise awareness about mental health issues amongst LGBTQI+ communities.

What have been the greatest challenges?

The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed the vulnerabilities of the LGBTQI+ communities and their mental health needs in Botswana. For many of the community members, the lockdown added another dimension of vulnerability along with the fears of the pandemic, as it meant being constrained in close proximity with family members or neighbours who were homophobic. Thus, staying connected with the community members during lockdown emerged as the first major challenge which Open Hands faced.

It was evident that since in-person interactions weren’t possible any more, other ways of communication had to be explored. Moreover, given the importance of confidentiality in the support that Open Hands provides, and the sensitive nature of the challenges many of their community members were facing, they also realised that digital group settings, such as WhatsApp or Zoom, were not an option.

How have they adapted?

The team realised that one-to-one calls would be the best tool for regular check-ins with the community members. The three team members split the beneficiaries among themselves and have been regularly following up with the community members. They also started doing more activities on the Facebook group.

While restrictions are slowly getting relaxed, the preferred mode is still online, so Open Hands has now started conducting workshops in a blended mode, that is, both in-person and online.

What were the enablers?

COVID-19 has been an eye-opener for the Open Hands team: they believe that they can now cope with anything. Despite being a volunteer-driven organisation, it was the drive and passion of the team members which helped them navigate through the hurdles of the pandemic. The mutual respect for each other and flexible team members were a major catalyst in mobilising resources to upscale their work and interventions. Significantly, the pandemic pushed the team into having discussions to think critically about the next steps as an organisation. It made them understand that they want to transition from volunteer to full-time roles and the team is now working towards transforming their model.