Combatting COVID… Virtually.

This time last year, I was working as a student consultant, for my Global Service Learning class, but more specifically for our clients in Trinidad and Tobago, Nature Seekers. Unfortunately, much like this current year, and even still to this day, the Coronavirus is affecting lives across the entire planet in more ways that can be imagined. After we were initially informed that the in country portion of the project would no longer be a component of completing our consulting work with our clients, the atmosphere changed dramatically. My previous group had to reformat our entire scope of work to better express what would actually be able to be delivered. Not to mention, we were in the midst of moving back home to figure out how to do all of our classes through Zoom as well. The world shut down, people were getting sick left and right, but our project still continued. Our client in Trinidad and Tobago, Nature Seekers, focuses efforts on eco-tourism, environmental conservation, and protecting nesting turtles from poaching. A year later, their mission has not changed. A year later, and my mission to help them, even without traveling, has not changed either. While there is a global barrier, not only for travel restrictions, but even in a more general sense: for extremely limited methods of communication, the goal has not changed. One year later, the Coronavirus is still blocking off a huge part of everyday life, the Coronavirus is still an uncertain element, but businesses are persevering.

Fortunately enough, the United States is a country with access to quality healthcare, a resilient health care and first responder force, strong communication systems, and a large organizational structure with a quickly responsive government. Because of these factors, and the collective adjustment efforts to make sure business and schools can still operate, I believe it has been easier to cope and adapt for myself and most people that surround me in my everyday life. However, each country is different. Trinidad and Tobago, as a country in its entirety, is much smaller, and majority much more rural of an area than the United States. I do believe in a way this has made it harder for them as the main emphasis in their society is culture, while in the United States, work and productivity take precedent. In terms of our interactions with our client, Nature Seekers, I can say that I am more prepared in terms of expectations going into this year’s consulting project than last years. For Nature Seekers, the majority of their funding comes from either ecotourism or government grants. Typical ecotourism operations have been shut down for over a year now as travel has obviously been restricted. Even for the organization alone, conservation efforts have taken a hit as their beaches are still shut down, not only for tourists, but all access is closed off after certain hours. This is particularly harmful for Nature Seekers as turtles nest at night and they are not able to volunteer and be present to help keep off poachers or other animals from interfering in the process. Because of this, our major role in this year’s consulting work has been focused to expanding their marketing and online presence via Facebook and their website.

Working with our client virtually has not been as smooth as we would all have hoped. Even for an online class at Pitt where we are all in the same region, or state at least, there are still unpredictable technology errors. Now switching to an entirely different country only worsens the issue, especially because of their weaker Internet access and connectivity. Our two client meetings were no exception. Both times we encountered a lot of glitching, fuzziness, mic cutouts, sentence break ups, and everything in between. While we had a basic understanding of what we were doing, it was hard to hone in on the specifics of our deliverables during these meetings. Our second meeting with Abigail Bobb, the financial accountant for Nature Seekers, had even poorer connection. In total, we probably got one to two complete sentences without interruption of information. But as CPLE students, we found a way. We decided to send a follow-up email to make sure we got all the correct information and asked a few more questions for clarification and further knowledge of the situation in Trinidad and Tobago. Finding another alternative method to get information without compromising the quality of an entire deliverable was essential in overcoming the barrier technology has created because of the pandemic creating an inability to travel in country. In a more optimistic light, as student consultants, I believe we have been able to adapt through this pandemic while simultaneously acquiring new skills to help us overcome these challenges. Personally, the pandemic has allowed me to be more patient and accepting of what is out of my control and for this international consulting project that has remained the case, as I am working with what I have and with what I can figure out for myself. In a way, working cross-culturally in a virtual setting has also given us more freedom to discover our own creativities and utilize previous projects to apply similar techniques to the present one. While we only have a few more weeks, I feel confident in our deliverables and the next steps for Trinidad and Tobago’s Nature Seekers and their online social presence. I still hope to one day be able to see the work they do in person, but for now, virtual methods will have to suffice.