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Youth taking the lead in promoting precautionary COVID-19 and Child Protection messages this Ganapati festival

Sep 7 2020 / Posted in Adolescence

- Vinita Ajgaonkar, Research Consultant, EHSAS (Empowerment, Health and Sexuality of Adolescents), SNEHA


Lord Ganapati is said to be the god of intelligence and ingenuity.  During the recently concluded Ganapati festival, this intelligence and ingenuity was employed by the staff and participants of EHSAS (Empowerment, Health and Sexuality of Adolescence), an adolescent and youth intervention of SNEHA (Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action), to overcome the restrictions imposed by the pandemic situation and to successfully carry out a community awareness campaign.

Gathering communities together to create an opportunity for awareness building, the original purpose behind the practice of public celebration of the festival, lost in recent years, has been revived by EHSAS.  The community campaigns carried out by the programme during this festive season on issues concerning adolescents and youth not only help to build an adolescent friendly ecosystem, but also give an opportunity to young people to participate as collaborators in programme efforts, and encourage agency and leadership. Even though this year the safety norms of social distancing precluded the hitherto used method of street plays for awareness building, the staff and the participants decided to harness technology  to communicate intended messages.

We had to assure the mandals that we would be doing the campaign online, and will not crowd the pandal,
shared Priyanka, an EHSAS participant.

This year the partial lockdown prevented most of the EHSAS staff from being physically present in the community. Undeterred, 19 adolescent and youth participants of EHSAs took the lead in contacting the local Ganapati Mandals (festival organising committee), and persuaded the mandals to include a few of them in the mandals’ respective WhatsApp groups for ease in coordination.

At one place the Mandal members I spoke to were not very interested. So I directly spoke to the chairperson,”
said Mary, Youth Facilitator at EHSAS, happy to have secured his cooperation.

Along with prevention of COVID 19, child sexual abuse (CSA) was identified as an important area needing awareness generation, based on research findings that the lockdown had led to an increase in incidences of CSA.

Using these themes, a poster making and slogan writing competition was conducted as part of the community campaign. Twenty seven participants of EHSAS created posters and slogans sitting at home, and forwarded them to the staff through WhatsApp to be judged. The posters were displayed by the participants near their houses in the community and were used as starting points for small group discussions, which they facilitated. In Dharavi, the adolescents coordinated with the Public Health Posts to display posters on COVID 19 awareness in the local Ganapati pandals. Audio messages on COVID 19 prevention and child safety recorded by one of the participants were sent to one mandal in Kalwa, two in Kandivali and 15 in Dharavi to be broadcasted on loudspeakers. Videos and e posters on one of the topics such as hand hygiene, building immunity, use of mask, sanitization, social distancing and child protection were sourced from World Health Organisation or United Nations Children’s Fund websites. On each of the 10 days of the festival these audio or visual messages on one of the topics were sent on the WhatsApp groups of the mandals, which have a reach of 771, with the request to spread the messages further through their own contacts. A video by one of the EHSAS participants, on nutrition and immunity building, was also circulated through these groups.  Thus nearly a thousand people were reached though this campaign, in conditions of partial lockdown, while observing all the necessary safety precautions as well as government rules and regulations. Santoshi, a participant, summed up the feedback they received,

People had heard this information earlier. But they had become lax. Our messages reminded them that the threat of COVID 19 was still strong. People told us that if all the girls became strong and smart like us, nobody would dare abuse them!”.
- Sanika, an EHSAS Participant

The mandals were not only appreciative of the efforts put in this time, but were also keen to be associated with SNEHA in future, “Please let us know about other such informative activities your organisation does.”