Covid-19 brings on a cloud, with its silver lining
The cornerstone that has always distinguished Petra Institute is our philosophy of building relationships. We constantly develop and explore the art of building healthy and respected relationships with, especially children. We share this knowledge through our training courses and research material. However, it doesn’t stop at only textbook materials: We maintain our philosophy – of building relationships – by our way of living.
Didn’t God send his only Son to live among us? Jesus revealed God’s true nature through His way of life on earth.
At Petra, we use training guides and academic material to share the knowledge entrusted to us. But we also build relationships with those we train. Dirk Coetsee, General Manager for Strategic Partnerships at Petra Institute, explains it best by saying:
‘‘Our training is a 24-hour event, a way of life. It includes sharing meals, walkabouts in the community and interaction with children.’’
When Covid-19 became a global pandemic in 2020 it affected Petra in an immediate and traumatic manner. We couldn’t train people and communities in the way we did before.
“People who were in a habit of working in communities on a daily- and weekly basis asked ‘what should I do now?’ Staff were numb,” explains Dirk.
Fortunately, it was not long before Petra realised the immense possibilities of expanding its online courses, also urging members to find innovative ways to continue their work.
First, Petra was plunged into what many can relate to post-2020, the online software program – Zoom. Because of our history of decentralisation, we were familiar with the app as a meeting platform, but not as a training platform. Helping each other, we learned how to effectively Zoom our way through 2020, and now 2021 as well.
Using an online platform for training also necessitated Petra to remodel and restructure some training courses to be online-sufficient.
Our foundation course on how to build relationships with children, Entering the World of Children, was restructured into two short modules stretching over five days each. The more specialised course about psychosocial support for children who experienced trauma, known as Walking With Wounded Children (WWWC), was restructured into an online course, Walking with Children Enduring Hardships.
The result of restructuring training courses to fearlessly embrace online training was overwhelmingly successful. As Dirk notes:
’’It was more than we could have imagined.”
Going online took us to Singapore, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mongolia, Uganda, Malawi, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Nicaragua and various South African provinces – to only name a few.
We hosted an excellent webinar with former students, some of whom still studied under Johan du Preez, and participated in various global webinars and symposia on children’s issues. Even our regular distance learning course, Relational Children’s Ministry, benefited greatly from the various options provided by Zoom.
Petra Institute was fortunate to work with a number of partners, including the Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision International throughout 2020 (you can read more about this partnership here).
“In the Congo, we completed four cycles and two modules. At the end of the course the five people who participated could present the courses themselves after only receiving online guidance,” explains Dirk, adding “the same happened in Nicaragua and Mongolia.”
Dirk goes on saying “in normal circumstances, meaning before Covid-19, it would have cost five visits over at least a two-year period to each country to finish the courses. Whereas in Nicaragua it took less than two months to complete four cycles.” Through similar online processes, facilitators of our partner in Kenya, Msingi Wa Ahadi Bora, learnt to facilitate family and tutor courses.
Our online philosophy
The use of online platforms that allow us to connect and reach out to people across the world primarily remains a communication medium. We have to keep in mind that online is not necessarily the medium the participant will use to teach after training.
Online training sessions must empower, and not discourage participants to put the training to use. Consequently, training will in some instances simulate a classroom setting, using a real whiteboard and marker, while in other cases we make use of Zoom’s wide variety of functions such as screen whiteboard, screen share, pictures, videos and breaking up in virtual groups. The context, the needs of the partners and the long-term strategy determine the way we use online training.
Staying true to our 24-hour mandate, Whatsapp and Signal proved to have filled a large void in building relationships in between training sessions.
Some of our online training sessions in practice
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The cloud and the silver lining
Despite the great successes of online courses, we were constantly reminded of the absence of fellowship and togetherness that ultimately strengthens Petra’s philosophy of building relationships.
As the world is still firmly gripped in a pandemic, Petra looks forward to travelling again to visit each person that we were privileged to have met online and to reunite with those we haven’t seen in months – obviously following all Covid-19 health protocols!