UNIFIL staff continue to serve peace from home

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30 Apr 2020

UNIFIL staff continue to serve peace from home

Since the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, UNIFIL leadership put in place all necessary precautionary measures in order to prevent the virus infection among the Mission’s more than 11,000 military and civilian peacekeepers. It was necessary to protect its host communities, while continuing to serve for peace in South Lebanon.

The Mission reviewed the roles of all UNIFIL civilian staff, implemented alternative measures, including quarantines, “working from home” modality and strict limitations on the movement of military personnel.

Most of the mission’s civilian staff have been telecommuting or working from home, except for some of the essential staff who have been reporting to work intermittently.

UNIFIL’s Strategic Communication and Public Information (SCPI) Office talked with two national civilian staff members on their experience of working from home and the main challenges they are facing.

Wael Chami, an officer in UNIFIL Civil Affairs who joined UNIFIL in 2009, said that “this is a unique of experiences,” noting that the one of the main challenges he is facing while working from home is the internet connection.

“There is huge pressure on the network especially during the daytime because many individuals are using the internet at the same time, which forces me to work during the night,” he said.

Rana Hashem, a media monitor in SCPI, agreed with her colleague Wael.

“I use the laptop for my work; my sister uses her laptop for her university studies; my daughter uses the mobile for her school studies; and my little son uses the tablet which distracts his attention and gives all of us a chance to do our work,” Rana said, commenting on the slow internet connection which hinders her daily tasks.

On the other hand, both Wael and Rana agreed that using technology and communication software, such as e-mail, chatting applications, and VTC, have facilitated their daily tasks and coordination with their team mates.

As for meeting the work requirements while taking care of their families the two UNIFIL national staff members said that it’s a challenge and a blessing at the same time.

Wael, a father of two, said that while working from home “I am making sure that I am not exposed to the virus, therefore I would be assured that I would not transmit it to my family, which makes me concentrate more on my work.”

In turn, Rana, a single mother of a 3 year-old boy and a 9 year-old girl, said that her children had a hard time understanding that her presence at home does not mean it’s a holiday. “As much as this stage is difficult, the only nice thing about this period, like for many mothers, we are happy to spend the day with our children,” she concluded.

Listen to the full programme with Wael Chami and Rana Hashem (audio in Arabic only):


[Ghifar: Hello, this is Ghifar Charafeddine from UNIFIL's Strategic Communication and Public Information Office.

In this special edition we will speak with some UNIFIL national staff about the subject of working from home, a temporary and precautionary measure that UNIFIL has adopted to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Firstly, we have with us Wael Chami via VTC on Microsoft's Teams software.

Hello Wael, may you introduce us to yourself?

Wael: Goodmorning, my name is Wael Chami, I am an officer in UNIFIL Civil Affairs section, I joined UNIFIL in 2009?

Ghifar: In order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in Lebanon, UNIFIL adopted the modality of working from home. What are the challenges you are facing while working from home?

Wael: For sure this is a unique of experience, in regard to challenges that we are facing when working from home, first of all I will talk about the internet, we have pressure on the network especially during the daytime because many individuals are using the internet at the same time, which forces me to work during late hour at night.

At the same time, I had a problem with my modem had some malfunctions so I had to take it to Saida to fix it.

Another type of challenges, namely our inability to leave the house, and specifically us as Civil Affairs officers, all our work is based on relations and meetings with the local and central authorities. This situation have constrained us and we became forced to just to have contact via the telephone and other communications methods, but when we want to gather a specific information or confirm a certain issue, we tried best to ask several sources to confirm the information. Also, as local authorities are preoccupied with the process of prevention of the spread of the virus, so their schedule is often in conflict with ours, so sometimes we care communicating during late hours.

As for the advantages for staying home, of course there is more freedom in using time, and more importantly is that I am making sure that I am not exposed to the virus, therefore I would be assured that I would not transmit it to my family, which makes me concentrate more on my work, so this is from the main advantages, which make one concentrate on his work as long as he knows that he is protected and his family has low possibility of being exposed to the virus.

Ghifar: You spoke about the communication with local authorities, which is one of your main tasks, but what about communication with your team mates, how are you using technology have effective communication?

Wael: Technology is necessary in this period, of course we are in continuous contact with the team via telephone, WhatsApp, or on the computer we are using Microsoft's Teams, in addition to all types of softwares that make distances closer. We are in continuous contact and we are coordinating all the steps that we take. In this field, technology was useful.

Ghifar: A part of your work is to communicate with the local authorities and community, but also coordinate between UNIFIL battalions and the local community regarding social and developmental projects, and we are seeing UNIFIL is active in donations related to medical equipment and sterilizing material. Are you personally working on this issue, in brief what can you tell us, what are you in this regard?

Wael: Currently, after with the medical situation in the country and the fear of the spread of the virus, UNIFIL is trying its best to contribute, through the budget allocated for projects, and to support the local authorities to enable them prevent the spread as much as possible.

Currently, one of the projects we are working one is with a union of municipalities, that consists of 16 municipalities. Their request was clear, material related to prevention, and we are at the moment trying to agree with the local authorities to set a date to go together and distribute these essential needs to the people. Examples for these materials, is everything related to personal preservation, or equipment to be used for spraying materials, or sterilizing materials.

We are noticing that there is gratitude by the people and the local authorities for UNIFIL support at this difficult period.

Ghifar: how are you coordinating your time at home between working and caring for your family?

Wael: We live in a shared house, my parents live at the first floor and we live at the second floor. I have a boy and a girl, the girl in school, but the boy is one and a half years old.

During this period, especially as my parents are old, to assure that my family is safe, whether my parents or wife and kids, and there is no possibility to catch the virus, so we agreed that I would be the one to go out to get the essential domestic needs.

As for my children, I am trying my best to help, and to explain to them, especially my daughter, who is older, that there is time for work. I am dividing my time between caring for my family and working.

Ghifar: I would like to thank you; is there any last words you would like to say?

Wael: During these times, one feels the importance of being responsible and to take things seriously, while hoping that the virus ends in a short time and for the people in Lebanon and all over thr world to go back to normal working modalities and to their normal life. I cannot but thank all those who are trying to work from home as much as possible, despite all technical difficulties and for the work and productivity to continue and at thd same time to preserve their health and personal safety.

Ghifar: Thank you wael. This was Wael Chami from UNIFIL Civil Affairs. Hope to see you soon, take care of yourself, your parents, wife, and the kids.

Wael: Thank you.


Ghifar: We continue our special episode, in which we are discussing the subject of working from home, [the measure] which UNIFIL adapted after the spread of Coronavirus in Lebanon.

We have with us now, our colleague Rana Hashem via WhatsApp. Hello Rana, How are you? May you introduce yourself?

Rana: Hello, I am Rana Hashem, I work in UNIFIL's Strategic Communication and Public Information Office since 2017. The most significant task that our office conduct is following the news and events, monitor newspapers, news bulletins, and important political speeches, and naturally this period there is a lot of events (incidents) in the country.

Ghifar: Rana, what can you say about the main challenges that you are facing while working from home?

Rana: Frankly, I was very afraid in the beginning from working from home, because the nature of our work is not very routine, our work needs a lot of concentration and a lot of follow-up, the work needs you to continue to follow news sources to know if the news is credible or not, took place or did not, and this needs a certain calm atmosphere and it requires a certain atmosphere to be able to meet the job's requirements in a fast manner.

In the beginning, frankly, we were very confused, but we put down a work strategy, we delegated tasks to everyone [in the team], especially in regard to the morning reports, we prepare a report that usually should be ready at 7 am, which forced us to be at the office at 5.30 am, for it to be ready at 7 am. From one side, the task might have become a bit easier, in regards to waking up very early, but the work pressure is still the same, in light of the big amounts of information and news that are currently being reported, and now any website, any news, many rumours.

Ghifar: Rana, how are you cooperating among yourselves as a team? And is there any challenges in regard to communication among the team?

Rana: As a team, we did not take a lot of time to get used to this new concept and to the new distribution of tasks. We may have suffered, like many other departments, we suffered, and we are still suffering, from the low speed of the internet connection, and from the frequent electricity cuts, especially that at home, I use the laptop for my work, my sister uses her laptop for her university studies my daughter uses the mobile for her school studies, my son uses the tablet for YouTube to distract him for us all to be able to work, and there is no such a fast internet connection in our area to be able to meet all this pressure. For sure, I cannot stop my work, neither can my sister stop here university studies, nor my daughter can stop here studies at this time, so we bearing each other as much as possible.

As for the team, I repeat, with coordination everything can be worked out, and distribution of tasks has played an important role, especially that we have put down a rotation system for roles, we distributed the roles among ourselves, who would in the early morning, who would follow political speeches, because there is a lot of statements and news, who would follow the flash news during the day, because as I mentioned before, our work continues 24/7 following up news and events, and we are a team of five, we need  to be able to distribute these roles as much a possible, in this extraordinary period, that does not differ a lot from our regular work, but what extraordinary is that we are working from home and we are not present at the office, and there is a lot of challenges in front of us.

I have a family, my other colleagues have other responsibilities and their families, children, and homes.

Ghifar: Rana, How are you using technology for this communication and coordination?

Rana: In the presence of WhatsApp and [other] applications are helping us a lot to coordinate more and communicate faster among ourselves, and especially during the weekly meetings, where we are using [Microsoft] teams for [Video Teleconferencing] (VTC), and to always keep the bigger team updated and coordinate together.

Ghifar: Rana, as you mentioned you live you family, parents and children, may you tell us how are coordinating between your work and taking care of family and children?

Rana: Here, we can say that this is the main challenge, frankly speaking, is the subject of children, because as we are living through an extraordinary situation, the children too are living through an extraordinary situation, I need to mention that I live with my mother and sister at home, I don't live alone, and my children are 3 and 9 years old. The children are used that when I come back home, that this time is totally dedicated to them. In the beginning they thought that as they and I are home then we are on vacation, especially the small one, it took some time for him to understand, that mom is present at home, but now her time is not dedicated to us.

But at the same time, I cannot always not have some time for them, I mean during work time, I would dedicate it to work, but still they have wants and needs, they fight, play, etc...So always an extra effort is needed from my side, that I distract them with something, to give them an activity, for me to be able to pass through these working hours and be able work in a calm atmosphere.

My mom helps me, my sister helps me, but their main reference is that their mom is at home, her time should be dedicated to them. Also, we should not forget, that there are also tutoring tasks, we continued the same schedule that we adapted before, that is during working hours, I work, and studying time is after working hours, this is how it was worked out. For sure, now, in this period, we are in a better situation than before (beginning of working from home period), but, frankly, as much as this stage is difficult, the only nice thing about this period, like many mothers, we are happy to spend the day with these children, and increase the time spent with them.

Ghifar: May God bless your children. Rana, at the end of this interview, what would you like to add?

Rana: We wish that this situation does not last long, maybe we were able to adjust in our work, and we are considered lucky persons that we are able to work from home, while other people stayed at home, but we continue our work, while we are preserving our health and that of our children, and we are not exposing ourselves nor others to danger.

Ghifar: In the end of this interview, I want to thank you a lot, and hopefully we see you soon, I want to tell you to take care of yourself, your family and children.

Rana: We wish that the situation return to normality, for all the people to live normally again, and for the children to return to school, and we return to the office, and I thank you in the end.

Ghifar: In the end of this special episode, I thank again our colleagues, Wael Chami and Rana Hashem, for sharing with us their experience of working from home, which is a measure adopted by UNIFIL, with the spread of Coronvirus in Lebanon. In conclusion, I cannot but wish all safety and for a treatment and a vaccine for the virus be found as soon as possible. See you soon.]