Left: Isabel Kambo, Academic Head at SONAM, Kenya. Right: Students undergoing practical sessions at the Skills Lab.
“I’ve always had this trait of pioneering new ideas. Give me a good team and we will execute it,” says Isabel Kambo, as she settles in for our interview.
Isabel, the Academic Head at the School of Nursing and Midwifery (SONAM), Kenya, led her team from SONAM in piloting Kenya’s first successful online examinations during the pandemic for nurses and midwives in a work-study programme.
“More than 150 students in various remote locations took the exams without physical supervision.”
This came after the government’s directive to close all in-person learning and conduct classes online . Students at SONAM are working across 30 counties across Kenya so coordinating learning was quite a feat.
“All learning went fully online for theory classes and clinical practice was withheld indefinitely. Our students are also frontline nurses and midwives so there was the continuous worry of exposure to the virus and infection,” says Isabel.
Isabel together with other faculty worked closely with AKU’s Network of Quality, Teaching and Learning (QTL_Net) to ensure faculty were equipped to teach online. They also provided internet bundles to all students and faculty to provide stable access to learning.
“As time went by and the crisis continued, we realised that stress levels were high. In conjunction with AKU leadership, the HR department and the Director of Student Affairs, we worked to provide psychological support to students, faculty and staff. We also held frequent meetings to ensure no one was left behind and kept tabs on how everyone was doing.”
“We were also to admit new students and orient them into online learning which again was a first for SONAM. We have not had to cancel any class and none of our students have withdrawn from the programme due to COVID-19 challenges. We will also be able to graduate our students on time despite the disruption.”
In her seven years at AKU, Isabel has seen the value of teamwork. In the midst of uncertainty and high stress levels, the team at SONAM Kenya had to put in extra effort and be creative and innovative.
“The students had to deal with saving lives while at the same time putting their lives at risk. Many were not paid salaries for months on end, yet they held on and continued with learning. Class representative kept tabs on their fellow students and communicated with the school to give updates. Faculty burned the midnight oil to ensure students did not miss lessons. Everyone came together to ensure continuity of learning.”
In the midst of all these challenges, there were some truly dark moments. Isabel lost her father in the early months of the crisis, some of her colleagues got sick and lost loved ones, and the daily stress and pressure was present at all times.
“What held us together was the support we gave each other, prayed for one another and gave words of encouragement. Most memorable is the humour and laughter that has prevailed among team members as this has continued to lift the dark cloud of this crisis time and again.”
As the world celebrates women during this month and their leadership in achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world, Isabel continues to challenge injustices against women that have emerged in the pandemic like loss of employment, gender-based violence, underage pregnancies and poverty.