Jean Baptiste Habinshuti’s experience during COVID-19 Crisis
I am on sandwich program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), USA. The first time that I heard about the outbreak of Covid-19 was in December 2019. It was spreading from Wuhan City, in Hubei Province of China. I did not think that it would spread to this level. I thought, it would remain in China, and certainly not that we would be in one of the largest ever global pandemics in history with the whole world on lockdown, thousands of deaths reported, and the world’s economy struggling.
I am scared, and my daily life is affected. We have been watching and reading news from different sources, including social media, to get updates but in all the cases, the number of deaths and new cases have been increasing at a tremendous rate- there is so much fear. Preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing face masks, hand washing with soap and use of sanitizers, have been declared by WHO and adopted by different countries all over the world.
WPI was closed since 15th March 2020 and there is no more movement allowed in the campus. As foreign students, living in one apartment, to limit our exposure to the disease, we adopted shopping strategies such as purchasing foodstuffs in bulk and keeping them in our fridge, and even purchasing some online. We only go outside to shop when our supplies are low.
As the pandemic spreads, we have worries about our families in Africa and they are also worried about us. We are trying to keep regularly updated on the pandemic and to call our families regularly to raise their awareness and help them to understand the importance of implementing and following the government safety measure.
USA is one of the most affected countries in both confirmed cases and mortality, something that caused more fear to us and our families. Consequently, staying indoors is the only way to avoid being exposed to the virus. Boredom and psychological instability resulting from doing the same thing every-day and being away from the family members is affecting us. Sometimes, I wake up feeling tired and having a headache, probably due to boredom and uncertainties about our status. We have became so concerned about our roommates that when anyone opens the door, we rush to ask where he/she is going.
As PhD a student, most of my activities revolve around academics but I also get involved in social activities and services, such as Sunday prayer meetings, church services, visiting family and friends, having conversations, etc. All the aspects of my life have been affected by COVID-19.
In March 2020 we had a trip to visit the World Bank at Washington as Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF) students in USA. During the travel we were afraid but fortunately we all arrived back safe.
As far as our research work is concerned, I had done some of the preliminary experiments before the pandemic paralyzed the activities in our University. When the university was closed in March, access to University facilities became impossible, with exception of some remote access. We continued to hold regular meetings with our supervisors to regularly review the slow-moving research progress. Our focus has been on writing. We remain with access to some of the school software on the university network.
I have a lot of work to do, as recommended by our advisors, I am trying to maximize the work on literature part of my thesis and when the things are normalized, most of my time will be focused on laboratory work. I am committed to working hard as I can and see the possibilities of meeting the planned timeline to achieve my goals and objectives on time. The only big challenge is about my research samples which remain detained in France because they contain radioactive material.
We need to get as much support as possible from the University to quickly access facilities, resources, and tools, as well as reviews of our work, to enable us to achieve this on time. We appreciate the support from icipe (RSIF Regional Co-ordination Unit), which will also be critical to ensure that we finish on time in this trying situation.