WOTR has organised 156 awareness sessions as of April 22 in 89 Madhya Pradesh villages, spread across six districts, reaching out to 32,100 people
By Vikas Prakash Joshi
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed chaos and upheaval across the world, adversely impacting economies, lifestyles and livelihoods, especially in emerging economies like India. As of May 5, 2020 India has about 46,000 confirmed cases with over 1,500 deaths. Both urban and rural pockets of India are adversely affected by the contagion’s aftermath.
In times of mounting crises, along with ensuring food security, sanitisation and availability of masks, it is important to transmit factual and timely information to the rural masses about COVID-19 and what precautions to take.
The Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) in Madhya Pradesh is ensuring the same through adopting a wide variety of communication measures: from painting messages on walls to producing communication tools in Hindi, and conducting awareness sessions directly with people on the ground.
We take a closer look at these activities below, across the six districts we work in: Anuppur, Seoni, Mandla, Chhindwara, Dindori and Damoh. As many as 156 awareness sessions were organised till April 22, 2020, in 89 villages in these districts, thus reaching out to 32,100 people.
Messages in wall painting
In the rural areas of these districts in Madhya Pradesh, people do not always have the patience or literacy to read long texts. Hence, WOTR conceived a creative way of promoting behaviour change — writing and painting messages on walls. The messages include information about the common symptoms of COVID-19, warnings on why one should not step outside home unless absolutely needed, and explaining why concepts like social distancing and hand washing are important.
Besides wall painting, WOTR has also brought out five booklets, in soft copy format, in Hindi to help our field staff communicate to the rural masses and for the people of the villages themselves.
These include a booklet for the Mahila Pravartaks (Women Promoters) which specific the guidelines to be followed by them, reading material about COVID19 for the WPs, a publication on how to make masks from locally available material, a detailed brochure explaining the COVID19 virus and lastly, detailed guidelines for the Village Development Committees on what steps/precautions should be followed at the VDC level. These are of use to not just rural folk but also our field staff. Photos of some of these booklets are given below:
Nisha Parnami, Senior Officer, Women Empowerment, Madhya Pradesh, who translated much of the content from English, states that these inputs are sent through mail to our district teams, who then circulate it through WhatsApp to our village-level workers. Over 8,000 people have received these booklets, according to Nisha.
Challenges in dissemination
“One major challenge is that even after we prepare these booklets, the village-level workers do not always understand the content or how to explain it to the villagers. We have to regularly conduct conference calls for all the workers, so that they know how to explain why ‘social distancing’, ‘quarantine’ or ‘isolation’ are important. While villagers are familiar with methods like quarantining women during menstruation, it is not always easy for them to understand why it is necessary in the context of COVID-19, as this does have a religious context like the former which they are used to. The second challenge is that only some villagers have smartphones. For the rest, the sevaks have to explain verbally, typically when they are drawing water or moving around,” says Nisha.
The impact of WOTR’s communication tools has been robust. They have helped create awareness about COVID-19, mobilised support for our work, and helped the field staff and villagers deal with anxiety that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown have set forth. Besides, many misconceptions have been dispelled. It was widely believed by villagers that a rise in temperature would kill the virus or that only non-vegetarians would be affected by it. But now, many people have realised that these are bogus.
“Since we started dissemination of this material, we have observed that people’s behaviour patterns have changed. They are now adhering to the precautions and are more aware of the seriousness of this pandemic. This is indeed a welcome change,” Nisha signs off.