Beating COVID-19 with solidarity
In Sierra Leone, as the Government made the wearing of face masks mandatory in public areas in May 2020, the UN team worked with local authorities and the public to reduce the spread of COVID-19, bringing the community together to respond to the crisis.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped spread the word by designing risk communications initiatives to raise awareness, procuring more than 5,000 posters, 800 placards, 27 banners, 300 megaphones, batteries, and public address systems to support the campaign.
To rapidly mobilise public support around the idea of wearing masks and practicing physical distancing measures, the UN team also used a community-led approach through civil leaders and local influencers.
Haja Marie Kondeh, Women’s Association
For Haja Marie Kondeh, president of the influential Freetown Market women’s association in Sierra Leone, receiving around 1,000 cloth masks for distribution among the most vulnerable market women was a godsend. Locally made masks cost up to a dollar, which is more than most of the women traders can afford.
We don’t wear masks not because we don’t want to, but because we cannot afford to buy them.
The masks were part of a 52,000-batch procured by UNDP as part of a campaign on COVID-19 prevention measures called "Corona fet na wi all fet" or "The fight against COVID-19 will be won with solidarity" in the local Krio language. The campaign aims to encourage change in behaviour and promote the practice of preventive health and safety measures in public.
"In such unprecedented [times], there are two essential things we can do – support the health care system to address and cope with cases, and enhance risk communication and community engagement to help slow and reduce the spread of the disease," said Dr. Samuel Doe, the UNDP Resident Representative in Sierra Leone.
George Wyndham, Paralympic Medalist
“The pandemic stopped me from doing what I love most — sports. It stopped me from earning an income to take care of myself and my family. [Now] I am using my influence in a good way for my country and myself,” George Wyndham says.
He is especially concerned by the plight of youth in Sierra Leone during the pandemic. “I know what it was like for them during the war and then Ebola. With COVID-19, and the poverty worsened by this disease, we have been experiencing some violence in some places, but we must bear up, stay strong, stick together, hope and work for the best, that is my message to them”.
Wahid, Musician and Artist
“We want to emerge from the other side of this fight stronger and walk into a brighter future,” says Wahid, a young Sierra Leonean artist known for his advocacy work on peace and development.
Wahid and other musicians across the country championed the campaign by creating and performing a national theme song to bolster the fight against COVID-19. Sang in the various languages spoken in the country, the song encourages solidarity and emphasizes the need for unity and social cohesion.
“The country loves these young men and women. The idea was just right to have them join and lead the fight,” says Solomon Jamiru, national spokesperson for the COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone, and the brains behind the concept of the song.
UNDP’s support was both technical, with the development of a social mobilization and community engagement strategy for the rapid roll-out of the campaign, and financial, with US $253,000 re-directed from programmatic budgets funded by the organization’s core resources.
The “Corona Fighters”
These financial resources also helped recruit the “Corona Fighters,” around 1,000 community volunteers who were rapidly trained in risk communication and community engagement. Most of them had already participated in the Stop Ebola campaign from 2014 to 2016. The trainings were organized by the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Center and approved and implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
In addition to helping mobilize public support, this financial transfer provided a much-needed safety net that helped boost the livelihoods of the community.
“I got a message on my phone that I had received some money for my first week of community volunteering. Honestly, I was not expecting payment, I knew I was doing it for my country. But this [allowance] will take our family a long way, things are very difficult for us right now with COVID,” says Samuel Mattia, a community radio anchor who volunteered to educate communities in the Western Area Rural, after violent riots against national security forces erupted following national lockdowns.
Overall, these initiatives helped reach thousands across the country, impacting the lives of those who may have wanted to observe the health and safety measures but could not do so due to a lack of resources.
Through solidarity, vulnerable members of the community no longer need to choose between buying a mask over food for their families.
This material is a slight adaptation of an article written by Helen Mayelle from the UNDP Sierra Leone team and originally published on Medium.