While we have been witnesses to how ‘it’ has ravaged mega-cities and cities across the globe, our worst nightmare of ‘it’ reaching the rural communities of India has come breaking our doors. Read through the article to understand another factor of what threatens people in rural communities and how Barefoot College International worked for it during the first wave.
*note to readers – while writing this, to address the disease I am choosing to use the word ‘it’, (iykyk)*
To start with, what do you think makes remote rural communities more susceptible to severe health and socio-economic crisis? Yes, living in close-quartered communities, limited resources, common facilities, access to primary health care have always been the challenges for these communities, but in this digital age of information – access to accurate information on ‘it’ has posed a threat not many envisioned.
“The government is using Twitter to release official information and bunk rumours, but only urban and educated people benefit from that. I think they should find a platform where everyone can access information equally and at the same time”, says one of our ground partners from the tea gardens of rural Assam.
The first impression of inaccurate information was only when in the early days of the pandemic, certain “Whatsapp” forwards caught the attention of our ground partners, who then identified the gaps that were raising inequities in the way information was being provided. These gaps were identified as:
- The rural communities whom we work with belong to a population that has very limited access to reading or writing.
- In addition, the information is not provided in regional languages, thus missing out on crucial information.
- No means to verify the incoming information, leading to myths and social & communal stigmas.
- Most of the preventive measures have not been created keeping the harsh rural realities or contexts in focus, thus most are rendered irrelevant.
- Current information on ‘it’ is accessible either online or doesn’t provide concrete examples from rural scenarios for adoption of precautions.
APPROACH FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES THAT WAS:
To fill the aforementioned gaps, Barefoot College International worked on a two-pronged approach that leveraged the wider reach of feature phones and in many cases, smartphones in rural communities:
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone calls.
- Whatsapp animated videos
In these IVR calls and videos, the following topics were propagated:
- How to prevent the spread, myths, social & communal stigmas?
- How to access support and services for pregnant women and young children in case of domestic violence?
- Action-oriented WASH practices.
- How to construct simple tippy-taps for handwashing?
The calls were short (~60 seconds), in a local engaging context with an option to call back free of cost and request any other relevant information and/or to ask their queries. Our ground partners and beneficiaries used their wide network within communities to set up WhatsApp groups for people with access to a smartphone to have them download our byte-sized animated videos with localised context and dialects.
Through the IVR calls and dissemination of animated videos via WhatsApp, we were able to open two-way communication channels and after a few initial IVR calls and videos, all the remaining videos were created based on the questions received from communities. This way we were able to truly engage in dialogue and discussions which helped many of the communities to take proactive steps for coronavirus prevention for themselves and their community members.
IMPACT ON RURAL COMMUNITIES:
Under the IVR call and animated video project from the Solidarity Grant from Atlantic Institute and Starbucks Foundation, we were able to create content in 9 different languages – English, Hindi, Bengali, Odia, Assamese, Telugu, Swahili, Eswatini, Spanish and other Nigerian languages. You can view/download all of these videos here.
A total of 5852 calls and 44 videos had reached out to 10630 people (including YouTube views) in 10 states in India, Swaziland, Zanzibar, Nigeria and solar trainees in Latin America. In addition, an estimated ~30000 members from rural communities had indirectly benefited from this initiative so far.
APPROACH RIGHT NOW
Now, for I fear, the situation during the second wave of ‘it’ in the rural backyards in India might never get the deserved media attention and the other underlying complexities, thus not even becoming a data point, we might never get to understand the impact ‘it’ has had or will have on these communities.
But, what we at Barefoot College International do understand is the power of the collective and the power of ‘seva’. So, while we attain our current work demand, we have designed and executed the following four-pronged approach to the current situation:
Lastly, to further utilise the powers of collective and seva, I would urge you to become a contributor to our approach in handling the worst crisis Rural India has ever faced.