The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new focus to the work involved in creating and fostering relationships near and far. With villages, towns, cities and countries around the world limiting social interactions to reduce the spread of Covid-19, we’ve all had to experiment with new ways of connecting meaningfully through the screen of a computer, tablet or phone.

For the Canadian crew leading the Kobian Matoto Bountouraby Sylla School project, the Covid-19 pandemic meant putting out plans to see first-hand the progress of the school, reconnect with community members and onboard a new field lead on hold.

Instead, we’re here and they’re there.

Some of us know our new field lead, Aly Badara Sylla, from the visit to Guinea that sparked the school project over a decade ago. But the young man we met then is now married and father to two children! And not all of our group had met him. He’s been involved in the school from the beginning, but working quietly in the background.

So, how do you onboard a new field lead, working across time zones, continents, languages and cultures?

We don’t have a cookie cutter solution. Our approach was to focus on our shared passions: education as a means for change and respectful international collaboration. Badara grew up in Kobian, the village where we’ve helped build a school. And although he had moved to the capital back when we met him, his long-term involvement with the project means he has lived the change that the school has made to his birth village.

Despite these foundational ties–meeting in person years ago, collaborating on a project that’s literally close to his home–we know this developing relationship is something we need to consciously care for and develop. Any solid bond needs tending.

We’ll do video calls and send messages regularly, of course. We’ll ask after his family and about the weather. But first we’ll take a moment to make sure we’re centred and giving him special attention.

And after we click “send” or end the call, we’ll go back to dreaming about visiting in person when the pandemic and the outbreak is over.