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28 Sep 2020

Covid-19 Awareness: A Crucial Strategy


Covid-19 is a pandemic unlike anything the majority of people have experienced across the country. In today's world, the advent of technology has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand we have been able to share and spread information quickly, far and wide in order to reach people and keep them safe. On the other, it has become a tool in which fake news has taken hold: theories, myths and false information are rife, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Like much of the news we hear, it is often passed on by word of mouth, interweaving and compounding existing knowledge and experience, meaning we can be left with what we think we know to be the truth but no way in which to verify. This is the case with some of the rural villages in Rajasthan where there is a lack of technology in the more remote parts of the area. Where there are few radios or televisions and mobile phone signal is extremely limited, how do you ensure that the right information reaches the right people?

Since the start of the pandemic Seva Mandir has contributed many services to the villages of Rajasthan, including providing frontline support, relief kits (including food, masks and hand sanitisers) and giving correct and credible information to help keep people safe and sane during these trying times. These efforts ensure that people know about the basic prevention methods of wearing a mask whenever going out, keeping their distance while interacting with others, washing their hands at regular intervals and more. However, over time the field workers have noticed that slowly people are going back to old practices; masks are often replaced with hand-towels, only put on when a social-worker, police or other official appears, and social distancing has slowly evaporated with crowded buses and autos becoming a regular sight.

One of Seva Mandir's key challenges is ensuring that those living in remote areas are given credible information with a scientific basis. As the disease progressed into a pandemic of enormous proportions an environment of chaos and fear surfaced. Seva Mandir's field-sources heard people advising villagers to use traditional medicines such as chirayata and nemi for immunity against the disease. In some villages, rumours were rife of Covid-19 spreading through mosquito-bites while other people began taking measures into their own hands by drinking local hooch (taadi), believing the alcohol to be preventative. This one myth resulted in increased consumption of liquor in villages.

Seva Mandir knew they also needed to educate and inform thousands of people to prevent further harm by believing the stories going around. Moving forward, much of the organisation's attention focused on strengthening awareness of the disease and providing accurate facts. The main obstacle hindering the campaign was reaching out to target these remote villages with little access to technology, with this in mind Seva Mandir resorted to traditional forms of communication such as audio campaigns (speakers attached to moving cars), village meetings, and as restrictions lift, safely and responsibly distributing leaflets. As well as creating and distributing audio, the campaign team created animation videos and posters informing people about the symptoms, threats and prevention techniques for the disease.

Furthermore, the teams are now working closely with leaders of village institutions, creating awareness committees across villages to help Seva Mandir achieve the purpose of debunking myths, facilitating Covid-19 relief work and educating villagers about symptoms and prevention of the disease. Further research is being carried out in how these myths started in the first place.

The past decades have seen villages work together to overcome many a crisis, this pandemic is not the first disaster the people of Rajasthan have had to endure. Their resilience and faith keeps the community strong and with Seva Mandir's assistance, the people are able to learn from each other and adjust their way of thinking over time to the benefit of all.

Written by Sukey Richardson

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