COVID-19: Technologies as an essential tool to help the most vulnerable remotely

Publication date: Jun 04, 2020
Social distancing, quarantines, border closings: the need to limit the diffusion of COVID-19 has led to the limitation of travel and all proximity to others. However, the most vulnerable continue to require our assistance, even more so at this time. TSF has therefore worked to ensure the continuity of all ongoing projects from a distance and even the start of new actions.
One of our IT engineers working

We managed to adapt well to the restrictions. The use of technical tools that allow us to manage our actions remotely has always been an essential component of our work. This allows us to more effectively follow up and quickly resolve any technical problem. So, during this health crisis, we continue 100% to provide support to the most disadvantaged ” explains Jean-François Cazenave, President of TSF.

Solutions to continue the assistance to our beneficiaries

Disadvantaged children suddenly found themselves unable to go to school and without the means to follow classes remotely, migrants and refugees found themselves stranded, lost in foreign countries, without access to reliable information. Because of their vulnerable situation, the beneficiaries we assisted before the pandemic ran the risk of not being able to be assisted any longer. The use of appropriate technologies has allowed us to continue to support them from day one.

In Turkey, we were able to continue our educational activities remotely, after the centres were closed, thanks to an online platform specifically developed by our technical team. This platform allows Syrian children to continue their education, which has already been very fragmented, and to benefit from regular follow-up with our teaching staff. Emmanuel, Project Coordinator, counts “152 children who are active in these activities. In addition, several Syrian children who did not participate in the activities of the center before its temporary closure, discovered this distance learning opportunity and asked to participate.

In Bosnia and Mexico, our projects can be managed entirely remotely. Once the equipment is installed, our engineers carry out technical monitoring from the headquarters while maintaining constant contact with local teams and partners. Florent Bervas, Head of Mission for Bosnia, explains that “management had to be done entirely remotely, from information obtained from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and from the manager of the centres where we are active, to the deployment of additional equipment.” Indeed, an isolation zone was installed outside the main building of the reception center, thus requiring TSF to extend Internet access to this zone. "To achieve this result, it was necessary to collect as much information as possible about the exact location of this area, the number of people present and the existing electrical network ... Then, network diagrams were designed to visualise precisely the location of the cables, the sources of electricity, the modifications to be made as well as the network equipment that will be installed. All of this technical documentation had as a goal to be able to delegate the installation stage to a local company.

In Mexico, the design of the solution made it possible to continue remote monitoring, according to Sébastien Lannes, Network and Systems Engineer: “Given that we were in permanent contact with our Project Coordinator and our partners in the field before the pandemic, we were already used to coordinating efficiently despite distance and different time zones. The architecture of our system is Cloud Computing oriented. We have a central server on which our televisions connect through Single Board Computers. The system can be used from anywhere as long as an Internet connection is available, and the same goes for its administration. In addition, we have a real-time monitoring system which, in the event of equipment malfunction, sends us an alert immediately. This allows us to notify our coordinator so that he can contact the center in which the equipment is located to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

TSF's support for medical centres in Syria continues and is being reinforced remotely through the connectivity provided to 9 medical centers. Among them, 2 centers were reopened in April and May in the Idlib area, where the threat of COVID-19 adds additional burden to families living in disastrous conditions for several months.

Border closures, suspension of international flights ... How can we assist victims of a natural disaster without being able to deploy?

In the event of a natural disaster, travel restrictions and compulsory quarantine measures, still in force in several countries, could limit the possibilities of deploying TSF teams.

So far this year there have been no major natural disasters affecting telecommunications, but forecasts for the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean point to a considerable risk for populations already vulnerable due to the pandemic. TSF remains mobilised and makes every effort to ensure its support for vulnerable populations and for humanitarian coordination, despite the deployment difficulties.

Thanks to the good relationships with government agencies in many countries in which we have operated for more than 20 years of humanitarian activity, we can quickly send satellite equipment and provide remote assistance for their installation, use, management and maintenance. “When TSF engages in the provision of satellite communications, and more so in the current remote working situation, we don't just donate phones, antennas and credit. The organisations with which we engage also benefit from all our know-how in the field of Internet communications by satellite. This obviously involves advice on use, but also by priorisation of communications and filtering inappropriate content or applications. This is even more necessary in a crisis context, to guarantee beneficiaries have access to essential services in emergencies such as VoIP or instant messaging. Without this filtering, a computer or smartphone connected by WIFI to the satellite Internet connection which updates its operating system or its applications, can saturate the connection, making all other uses of the Internet impossible for other users” explains Clément Bruguera, Emergency and ICT Coordinator (Information and Communication Technologies).

This pandemic has shown us the crucial role that technologies play in the daily life of those who can afford them, to continue to learn, work or keep family links. For TSF, technologies are a means of giving these same possibilities to those who do not have access to them.