Picture the person you love most. Conjure their image in your mind’s eye. Now, think about all the different ways you are going to protect them from getting sick from the coronavirus. How are you going to prevent yourself and your loved one from falling ill? Now, say it out loud and commit to taking preventative measures.
This is the first half of a pledge that we asked community members from our partner villages to make during educational meetings about COVID-19. The second half of the activity asked participants to pledge how they are going to protect the other participants’ loved ones by preventing the spread of coronavirus.
In early March, it became clear that we would have to scale back our programs for the safety of our staff and communities. At the same time, we realized that we needed to ensure that our partner villages had the knowledge and tools to prevent a local outbreak of COVID-19.
In the weeks before Sierra Leone began a three-day country-wide lockdown, OneVillage Partners’ program staff held COVID-19 education meetings in all 18 of our active partner villages. They engaged our current Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) cohorts, Community Action Group volunteers, traditional leadership, religious leaders, and enlisted the support of local healthcare staff. These COVID-19 meetings shared the signs and symptoms of the virus, prevention methods, and debunked myths of the virus. Our staff facilitated the groups to come up with their own community-led education, prevention, and response plans, so that they could more broadly share this information within their communities. Through these COVID-19 meetings, 539 people were directly educated on the virus, and since all trained community members pledged to spread this education in their villages, we estimate that over 22,000 people – the full population of our active partner communities – will be educated on COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.
Before OneVillage Partners program staff arrived to the COVID-19 meetings, we were impressed by the actions that many communities had already taken to keep themselves healthy and safe from the virus – handwashing stations were set up at key points around the community, quarantine houses had been established, and new by-laws to control the potential spread of virus had already been enacted.
The action plans that we facilitated with all of our partner villages were inspiring. Communities’ plans included ways to creatively and safely educate community members, creation of new and additional by-laws to enforce handwashing and practice social distancing, and rapid response plans should a community member begin showing signs and symptoms.
The community of Grima came together to educate and prepare themselves for a potential COVID-19 outbreak. In Grima, meeting participants, including Community Action Group volunteers, chiefs, and the local clinic nurse, decided that they would split themselves into three groups. Each group would be responsible for targeting 10 households per day with peer-to-peer education on COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread. Community members learned what to do if someone begins to show signs and symptoms – stay at home, call a healthcare provider to come inspect the individual, and avoid community members that are experiencing symptoms. Grima also plans to monitor individuals from outside the community, and local leadership has implemented a by-law that requires all newcomers to be immediately reported to local authorities and health workers. Participants at the Grima meeting expressed that because our program staff are local to the area, they trusted their insights and will implement the prevention advice, as opposed to waiting for outside medical practitioners to inform the community about the virus.
Many of our partner communities were severely impacted during the 2014/2015 Ebola outbreak. They were in the middle of the Ebola “hotspots,” and suffered great loss and huge disturbances to everyday life. Now more than ever, it is vital for communities to work together to prevent a different kind of virus from wreaking havoc. We feel very confident in our partner communities’ responses to COVID-19; they are proving that when communities work together and plan proactively, they are resilient in the face of uncertainty.