Overcoming the COVID-19 Obstacle

It’s still upsetting knowing that we were unable to go to Trinidad but taking a look at the situation almost three weeks after the decision, the University made the right call by cancelling all Spring Break study abroad programs. At the time, there were a few confirmed cases in the United States but not nearly as many as in Italy or China. Although it did not look like it was going to be that big of an issue in the US or in any of our travel destinations, it quickly spread to the point that a week later, the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the vast majority of other universities across the country, are now participating in all classes online and multiple states have issued stay at home orders. Although it was definitely the correct decision by the university, it has caused for our project to endure a lot of changes and ramifications.

Taking a look at some of the ramifications that we faced as a result of not being able to travel in-country, the biggest of them all is the fact that we are now unable to actually see how the business is run firsthand. Although we have gathered a lot of information regarding Nature Seekers through the data that was sent to us, as well as through our own research, none of this is as valuable or helpful to the project as visiting the company and getting to see for ourselves some of the challenges that they face as well as how the company runs. This is a major challenge for us because two of our three deliverables relied on our visit to the country and interactions with Nature Seekers. Additionally, we will be unable to interact with DORCAS Women’s Group as well as the high school students in Matelot, which makes our final deliverable of creating a Partnership Analysis and Opportunities Report virtually impossible. As a result of not being able to travel to Trinidad, we had to edit our scope of work to make our deliverables more realistically achievable. Additionally, we won’t be able to gather some of the information that was key to our deliverables, forcing us to instead make the best out of what we have and what we are able to find through research.

As much as the trip cancellation poses an issue for us, it causes just as many problems for the organizations in Trinidad we are working with, such as Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group. In class, we discussed the reciprocity of service learning. We focused more on the benefits, such as how service learning allows for the students to gain experience and apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world while the clients get beneficial reports and information to help them run their business. However, there are also downsides of this reciprocity, such as how us not being able to fully fulfill our original deliverables can negatively affect our clients. Firstly, the lack of firsthand research that we are able to use hurts the organizations we are working with as much as it hurts us. The reports that we create to send to our clients will not be nearly as thorough or as helpful as they could have been had we gone on the trip. Additionally, our trip is part of a 10-year plan that is supposed to help aid the growth of Nature Seekers and the Matelot community. Because our reports will not be as thorough, it hinders our progress in the 10-year plan and puts us one step behind where we’re supposed to be in aiding these communities. Finally, as mentioned in the last blog post posted a couple weeks ago, Trinis gain trust through building relationships. Not being able to meet the members of these organizations in-person makes it harder for us to build relationships and gain the trust needed for the project, something that hurts both our group and the clients we are working with.

Because of all of these problems that we faced, flexibility and adaptability, two attributes that service learning contributes to growth in, were both extremely important and are still important as we edit our project. When we first heard about the cancellation of the trip, we were all frustrated and concerned at what we were going to do about the project. As mentioned earlier, a large portion of our final deliverables was reliant on our visits to Nature Seekers and Matelot. Our first class after the cancellation, we discussed how we were going to approach the situation. We discussed different methods that can be used for us to communicate to our clients to get the information that we needed to complete the project. Additionally, we discussed potential changes that could be made to our scope of work. This first class made me feel a lot better about how we were going to be able to complete the deliverables and supply our clients with helpful reports. After learning of the cancellation of all in-person classes and the move of all lectures to Zoom, it began to make me worried again. After thinking it over for a few days however, I realized we would still be fine as long as we remained flexible and adapted to the new situation. We decided that it would be best to eliminate the deliverable regarding a partnership between Nature Seekers and the Matelot community and instead focus on our best practices report and marketing recommendations. The key is to make do with what we have and provide the best reports we can given the circumstances.

As of now, the coronavirus is considered to be a global pandemic, spreading all across the world. It feels like every day, the news discusses the spread of the virus to a new state or country. As of now, there are 51 positive cases in Trinidad and Tobago according to the government website, but this is likely to increase as more people are tested. As the disease spreads, this could have massive repercussions for the country. The large majority of the country’s GDP come from petroleum and natural gas. Because of the worldwide isolation that is taking place, especially in the bigger countries and buyers of natural gas such as the US, they are not selling nearly as much, and the prices have dropped massively. For an economy like Trinidad and Tobago, who are extremely reliant on this market, this virus could be devastating. Additionally, people are avoiding travel and many countries aren’t allowing travel abroad, something which also hurts Trinidad and especially Tobago due to their reliance on tourism. It is also important to consider the accessibility of testing in Trinidad compared to here in the US. One of the major problems over the past week or two has been the lack of tests here in the United States. This problem is likely to also occur in smaller, less developed countries like Trinidad and Tobago. This means that although there are currently 51 positive cases, it is likely that there are many more who have the coronavirus but just haven’t been tested. According to the government website, they have only received 311 tests so far, which shows the lack of testing being provided when you consider the fact that their population is around 1.4 million people. This is a massive issue because it means that people could be spreading it without even knowing they have it, making the issue even worse.

The spread of the coronavirus not only hurts the country as a whole, but it also can have major consequences for our clients, especially Nature Seekers. Although our project focuses more on the sales of their jewelry under the Turtle Warrior brand, the disease will impact our final deliverables and the overall company. As mentioned earlier, tourism is going to be essentially nonexistent over at least the next few weeks, but more likely the next few months, as people stay in isolation and avoid contracting the disease. This hurts the ecotourism industry that Nature Seekers is involved in. Additionally, it hurts sales of the Turtle Warriors products because very few people will travel to the shop located in Matura. This means that most of their sales will have to be online. The issue with this is that they only have a couple of their products online due to the high costs of shipping they would have to pay for both domestic and international orders caused by the country’s lacking infrastructure. Distribution is something that we were going to aid them with in one of our deliverables, but it will be a lot harder now due to us not being able to travel to the country and see the infrastructure for ourselves.

Overall, this is a big problem that nobody saw coming a few months ago. Even up until a few weeks ago, there was not much cause for concern here in the US. Now, however, the whole world is on alert as the virus spreads. It has forced for us to make massive changes to our project, causing us to be extremely adaptable and flexible, and is something that can negatively affect Nature Seekers and Trinidad and Tobago as a whole. As much as I am disappointed that we were unable to travel abroad, I still look forward to continuing to work with our clients and finalizing our project deliverables.