“Throughout this tough time, we have discovered what we’re really made of.” Paula Bain’s words deeply resonate throughout Tribal nations as COVID-19 impacts lives across the globe.
Bain works as a Farm Loan Officer for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Navajo/Gila County FSA office. This is a story about a working relationship between Bain and Teresa Honga – Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) Technical Assistance Specialist (TA) that illustrates some of what is really going on within the lives of Tribal families directly impacted by the pandemic.
“Families are having to deal with the loss of loved ones due to COVID-19,” Honga said. “I know of families that are dealing with two to three losses in their family. A sad part is not being able to have extended family near or present during these times for comfort and strength due to social distancing restrictions.”
While respecting safety precautions, both Bain and Honga, and multitudes of others serving Indian country, are continuing to head to work each day. Honga has been working with Bain to find solutions in closing two USDA Farm Service Agency Youth Loans that were being applied for by two youth whose families were quarantined due to family members testing positive for COVID-19. The youth, living in two separate families, faced different scenarios. One youth’s parent decided it would be best to cancel the youth loan and reapply next year due to the added stress. The other youth had his grandmother listed as a signer on the loan documents. Sadly, she passed from COVID-19.
“I notified FSA and we were able to have a parent fill out needed documents to complete the loan,” Honga said. “This family has tested negative and we’re trying to coordinate a field visit with FSA to sign closing documents. I would like to commend Paula Bain for her patience and understanding and also granting extensions and working with us to find solutions.”
“Back in March, when the loan process began with local youth, we didn’t realize we would still be in the process here in July,” Honga admitted. “The reservation lockdowns, curfews, the stress of whole families in quarantine and experiencing loss of loved ones, all consequences of COVID-19, were a major factor in causing delays in field visits and signing and closing of loan documents.”
Regardless of the real and ever-present challenges, finding solutions is central to the work the IAC TA network strives to do each day. With eyes-wide-open to the challenges, they remain undaunted and committed to serving the best they can under trying circumstances. Bain pointed out, “It has been wonderful having someone (Teresa Honga) working from inside of a community lockdown/quarantine. I actually relied on information and answers from customers provided by Teresa.”
“Some of the challenges as a TA is getting information out to the Tribes and Tribal ag producers in the region, with Tribes being shut down and having their focus on COVID-19 at the forefront, as it should be,” Honga admitted. “The IAC as an organization is working to rise to the occasion by offering webinars for Tribes and producers on a weekly basis, which has been keeping folks up-to-date on current COVID-19 related programs and other topics related to food sovereignty.”
“The IAC TA program is also now focused on forming an initiative to conduct widespread outreach to Tribal communities actively involved in ag/food infrastructure in response to COVID-19,” Honga said. “The IAC TA network is ready to serve and assist Indian Country to either further or develop agriculture/food infrastructure.”
Bain echoed the opportunities that exist, even within the stressors of the times, “This year has definitely brought unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also offered opportunities for us to learn how to work and function differently, while remaining to be productive and effective.”
This is a link to some of the COVID-19 resources IAC team members have created and gathered together: www.indianag.org/covid-resources
Follow IAC on Facebook to see a constant flow of updated information and educational resources and webinars: www.facebook.com/IntertribalAgricultureCouncil
Join us on our E-Learning platform to gain access to a host of workshops and webinars here: www.indianag.org/learn