I did not think I would be writing this article today. However, given that the numbers of confirmed Covid 19 cases keep rising, and are likely to continue to rise, I consider that I should share this today, in the hope that it will achieve two things:
(i) inspire us to reach out to our rural communities before it is too late, and (ii) inspire individual and group creativity to do this effectively.
With the numbers of infection and deaths rising globally, there has never been a more crucial time for the human race to act collectively, strategically and conscientiously with one objective: survive together.
This is an election year, and, in Ghana, expressing one’s view of the effectiveness or otherwise of the strategies we adopt nationally to fight Covid 19 can sometimes be likened to walking in a crocodile infested pond with some foot, leg, head and heart soldiers coming at you with all sorts of verbal weapons, and, occasionally, threats.
Your loved ones get scared and more or less try to do everything they can to ensure that you keep your mouth shut – they don’t want you hurt, and, they know our systems and institutions well enough to know that if you do get hurt, nothing more than a banter or bickering will come out of it. Often, you know that their fears are not unfounded.
However, if we do nothing, say nothing, or suggest nothing, Covid-19 may come for all of us. We, therefore, must speak up and/or do something to win the war against Covid-19, in spite of our fear of the crocodiles in our election pond in an election year. To this end, I call on the leaders of the various political parties to reign in some of their overzealous supporters, and, to get them to understand that we have a pandemic on our hands, a disease we do not quite understand yet.
Since we need to first survive before we can politick, they should cease-fire for now, until we are safe from Covid-19, at the very least. For the most of us, we are probably not interested in who wins or loses the election as much as we are about fundamental things: saving our people; building strong and effective institutions and systems; ensuring that the right thing is done; and, generally building a fairer society for our people, including the foot, leg, head and heart soldiers more or less terrorizing others. I digress. The point though is this: we can do nothing, say nothing, but just watch Covid-19 come for us. So what must we do? On this, my focus in this article is the rural community, and the lessons we learnt in reaching out to our community of Manyoro.
By way of background, on Ghana recording its first Covid 19, case, I called up a few friends from my childhood, and suggested that we plan, contribute, buy some soaps for vulnerable people in our hometown of Manyoro, and, educate them on Covid 19. My reason was simple, the news I read showed that it was just a matter of time before the Covid 19 cases start to increase. I know our society. I also know the capacity of our health facilities, and, I know that our health systems cannot contain huge numbers of confirmed cases. So our best bet is to prevent the spread and/or worst case scenario, delay infections. The question was thus: how to do this?
Although there was a lot to still learn about the novel virus, there were somethings we knew already: wash your hands with soap under running water for at least 20 minutes; avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose; social/physical distancing; use of hand sanitizers, etc. If you know the Ghanaian society, you would also know that these were not going to be very easy things to do. For example, we like to wash our hands in bowls designed for the purpose, (“still water”), and, we like to do things together.
Our society also generally likes to leave a lot of things in God’s hands. So, the education on Covid 19 needed to start early because we would be called upon to change attitudes. In addition, we do need to carry our rural communities along with us in all of our strategies to defeat Covid 19. This is a collective fight that we win or lose together. Early efforts at educating and sensitizing our rural communities are an effective weapon in this war. I digress again. Back to my idea as to how to help out at our native home of Manyoro.
When I mooted the idea to my friends from childhood. They all came on board. With passion and dogged determination, they all contributed to the Project, not because they had so much money to spare, but just because they were eager to support our community. We were just eight of us, and, we are all based in Accra. It was to be a humble project, but by the time my friends came on board, and by the time we were executing this project, it was definitely much bigger than what I had in mind when I made the proposal.
To my surprise and inspiration, our humble project was able to: (i) educate people from our hometown of Manyoro on Covid 19; (ii) donate V buckets, soaps and disinfectants to all the Health posts/CHIPS compound in Manyoro, (a total of three of Health posts/CHIPS compound); (iii) donate V buckets, soaps and disinfectants to the Manyoro market, (to be placed at vantage points of the market for easy use); (iv) donate V bucket to the community center; (v) donated soaps to the vulnerable of the community including persons who are physically challenged persons.
Members of the community did the rest themselves, they took it upon themselves to educate one another, and, within a short time, washing of hands with soap was becoming a habit. The only major compliance lapse was “social/physical distancing”. The Ghanaian community, particularly the rural community is one that thrives on togetherness and doing things together. It will, therefore, require more efforts to get us to learn and to keep our physical distance. On this, education and reminders are still ongoing.
What lessons did we learn from this project? Call it lesson 1. This project taught us that Ghanaians do love their communities, although we may not always acknowledge this. Ghanaians are happy to step up to the plate and help put their communities where they can, and, they will go all the distance and some more.
So there is opportunity for community mobilization for good purposes. The second lesson we learnt is that Ghanaians are generous. They will not hesitate to dip into their pockets and pull out what they have to assist a common purpose, and, they will not hesitate to put their time, resources, talents, etc. to grow their communities, if they believe in the cause and if indeed, it is a worthy cause.
Let me return to our Project. My friends and I had decided from the onset we were not going to publicise this project, because it was something we wanted to do just for the people of our hometown, and we did not want any cameras on what we were doing. Our reason was simple – this is for the people and our contribution in the fight against Covid-19 out of love and concern for the people. It was our hope that this would inspire similar actions among rural communities everywhere so that we could stand together to fight a common enemy: Covid-19.
So no, we were not going to publicise the project. We wanted this to be a candle that would light other candles, and, hopefully, it would take a life of its own. Then something happened. We got word that someone else was claiming credit for our Project, and, had succeeded in employing a propaganda tool of sorts to inform the community, that she was the source and donor of our humble project. As it would turn out, this person was one of the eight (8) of us.
So she was privy to all the planning and execution of the Project as this was done on WhatsApp. She was thus effective. Naturally, this unsettled us. No one likes betrayal. However, we put the betrayal aside, and chose to learn the lesson it presented. So our lesson three was the insight it gave us as to what may sometimes stand in the way of community mobilization – trust. It also helped us learn some of the dynamics in our rural communities, and gave some sort of background to why politicians probably emboss their images on relief items that they present to the communities – trust. We figured, that this may sometimes be what stands in the way of some people helping out with their communities. So what did we do?
We simply had announcements made in the market square to correct the deliberate misinformation and involved the local community structures. On this, we have the following more lessons to share: (Lesson 4) do not encourage or be silent on deliberate twisting of facts. When you do that you hurt our community, because people lose trust in “doing good”, and this hurts all of us; (Lesson 5) involve the community structures when you are helping out with something in the community.
It helps to avoid situations where some people may want to reap where they did not sow; (Lesson 6) involve the media in a non-intrusive way. The media helps to keep people accountable. When you involve the media, it does not mean you want glory, rather, it should mean you want accountability and transparency. Involving the media in a non-intrusive way means do not invade people’s privacy by taking pictures of them in their “comfortable zones” and splashing such pictures on media platforms or on social media. Such pictures do not respect the dignity of persons.
If in doubt whether you should splash an image of someone accepting aid from you on a media platform or social media, do a simple test – if this was me, would I like this picture of me circulating on media platforms and/or on social media? If your answer to that question is “no”, do not publish the photos. Remember, respect the dignity of all persons, even when you are giving out help. There is a difference between “helping people”, and “merely wanting to be seen helping people”. Aim to do the former. You achieve this when you involve the media in a manner that does not violate people’s privacy or dignity.
Politics may have divided or clouded our views at some point, more so in this election year. Betrayal of trust and the acts of dishonest people may have driven some well-meaning citizens to sit on the fence sometimes, and, to lose confidence in lending a helping hand. We however face a common enemy that knows no race, tribe, ethnicity, religion, political party, gender, etc.
This is a common enemy that comes for all of us. This is time to reach out and form alliances with a common purpose – survive together. The bickering and suspicions can wait. We can be as innocent as doves, but as wise as serpents. So reach out, identify some need in your rural community, and, get involved in doing something to help. After this fight, let us commit to rebuilding the values of love, respect, dignity and honesty in our society. We can.
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