By Kwasi Adjei Boateng, Generations For Peace Pioneer in Ghana
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have noticed how the pandemic has shed light on the existing and persisting inequalities in Ghana and across the world. While physical distancing is essential to preventing the spread of the virus, many people live in informal and overcrowded settlements with limited access to basic facilities, such as water, electricity, and sanitation. As a result, practising physical distancing is almost impossible. This is the reality of the district of Chorkor in Ghana’s capital, a fishing neighbourhood where physical distancing has proved difficult due to the high population density. Areas like these are consequently at high risk of getting infected by the virus.
This is because in these areas the inequalities in resources often reflect inequalities in the access to education and information – while some mistakenly believe that washing themselves in the sea or drinking Akpeteshi (a local liquor) can protect themselves from getting sick, others believe the virus is caused by witchcraft. In addition to this, we are also facing the social stigmatisation of people who have been infected with COVID-19, and those who have been cured and discharged from treatment. As a result of this fear, many are scared of getting tested or run away from hospitals in order to avoid the stigma.
To reach these communities, our local youth have been showing great empathy and putting their creativity to use. Noticing that most of social media content regarding COVID-19 was in English, some began to play music and sing songs in the local Twi dialect and pidgin English to stress the importance of abiding by the precautionary measures. In overcrowded areas like Chorkor, youth group leaders have played a key role in disseminating educational messages amongst their peers. The support of local youth leaders is essential as they can adapt the government’s national policies to the specific needs of a community. This allows the precautionary measures more likely to be accepted and respected by the local community members.
While staying at home with my wife and two children, my family and I have also been brainstorming ways to spread awareness about COVID-19 to my community members and to those most in need. From a safe distance, we often talk to our neighbours to stress the importance of physical distancing and hand washing. We also learned that our neighbourhood was temporarily sheltering some people who do not have proper homes in squats. Since they do not have the financial resources to buy protective equipment, I have showed them how to make facemasks with simple handkerchiefs to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In order to reach out to my family and friends who live further away, I have also been using social media. Through Facebook and WhatsApp, I regularly inform them about the latest developments of the virus and share safety tips with them on a weekly basis. I believe that these weekly reminders are essential because as time goes on, people tend to become less cautious and may neglect to respect the precautionary measures.
In our own small ways, I believe we can all help our community and the most vulnerable around us. Through solidarity and empathy, we will overcome this crisis together. As I have been telling my children: “We are all each other’s keepers.”