By Kevin & Sophia Soli, Papua New Guinea Flying Labs
The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted how we perceive and experience our world. Families and schools are trying to understand how to safely engage their children and students while managing each other’s expectations amidst the threat posed by COVID-19. Countries were under lockdown, and normal life ceased as COVID-19 sparked fear and uncertainty around the world, including in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Papua New Guinea Flying Labs ran our first COVID-19 rural community outreach in ‘personal hygiene’ right after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in PNG in early March 2020. We started with our neighboring families, including ages ranging from five to 21 years old. We explained and demonstrated for everyone why and how to sneeze and cough into the elbow, proper hand-washing, correctly wearing and disposing of face masks, and social distancing. We sourced technical guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) online fact sheets.
“We are pleased with your great initiative. My two-year-old son can now practice elbow cough!” ~ Papua New Guinea Flying Labs Supporter
When PNG’s Prime Minister declared a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown from late March into April 2020, we introduced our free ‘Safety and Wellbeing’ awareness program alongside our ‘Coding and Droning‘ classes, which attracted kindergarten to 6th graders within our closed community of families. We continued to uphold personal hygiene and social distancing. All classes had a minimum of four students, where students and instructors wore protective masks. These masks were simple ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) face coverings taught step-by-step in our classes. We are thankful that there were no COVID-19 related symptoms or life-threatening cases within our community between March and May. There were intermittent power outages and interrupted Internet connection for one to two weeks. Still, our community is resilient to such circumstances since it is a norm in our low-resource setting.
Despite the challenges at hand, it was fun to gamify the human immune system and response in a child-friendly way as part of our ‘Immunology 101’ class during COVID-19 lockdown. Our students played a COVID-19 game, called ‘Corona Blaster!’ amongst themselves to see who could score the highest. The game was created using Scratch programming language and comprises rocket-like white blood cells firing laser bullets to disarm and kill novel coronaviruses (COVID-19) entering the lung cavity. The player (white blood cell) should aim to kill as many viruses while avoiding contact with them. The more viruses killed, the more points the player scores. In the case of COVID-19, we featured the lung anatomy as the battlefield and the white blood cells and viruses in the forefront of warfare. We can apply the same concept of an immune response to bacterial infection in the stomach (e.g., cholera) or parasitic infection in the liver (e.g., malaria). The learning outcomes are to:
- use digital tools and algorithms to create simple and interactive computer games,
- identify the human anatomy where a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection occurs; and
- have fun fighting against disease.
The Corona Blaster! Game complemented our hands-on DIY mask, hand-washing with soap and social distancing.
A couple in our community by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Gubi has courteously offered us a room on their rental property to run our ‘safety and wellbeing’ and ‘coding and droning’ classes. We provide instructors, educational tools, and training curriculum to build our young local talent.
“I, as a parent, believe that my children will one day achieve their dreams, and people like you can mentor them through, and it’s going to be an exciting journey.” ~ Papua New Guinea Flying Labs supporter.
We are encouraged by the support of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has brought out the best in all of us working together for the benefit of our children.
We aim to teach as many students in PNG about science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics (STEAM), and the magic of drones through our afterschool program. We are developing new hands-on courses, which include interactive communication, geometry, geography, and aviation. We’ll explore the world of drones, helicopters, and planes and the beauty of STEAM.
During this time, we pray for peace and comfort for families and their loved ones affected by COVID-19. And we wish the WeRobotics global community and Flying Labs network the strength to combat COVID-19 related challenges in their respective countries.