Adolescent girls are helping their community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in Guinea-Bissau

Ramatulai, Djenabu, Assanato and Cadidjato work tirelessly when it comes to educate their community members living in remote areas on how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Wilson Gama
As adolescentes a preparar para visitas porta a porta para consciencializar a sua comunidade de Sintchan-Fanca
19 January 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing tremendous socio-economic impacts worldwide, deepening disparities, increasing the vulnerability of communities, especially those living in remote areas.

Guinea Bissau’s health system is one of the weakest worldwide. At the same time, the COVID-19 context has exacerbated the economic situations of communities already striving to make ends meet. The pandemic has also further exposed children, especially girls, to risks such as: child labour, early pregnancy and child marriage.[1]

In response to the challenges faced by their community in remote Sintchan-Fanca, 17-year-old Ramatulaı Seidi and her girlfriends, Djenabu, Assanato, and Cadidjato, all of them active members of “The Adolescent Girls Education Empowerment and Participation Project” funded by UNICEF, are acting as great changemakers. The four girls are doing an incredible work for their community members when it comes to educate them about the COVID-19 prevention measures.

Ramatulai Seidi one of the adolescents carrying out COVID-19 awareness raising in the community
Ramatulai Seidi, one of the adolescents carrying out COVID-19 awareness raising in the community of Sintchan-Fanca, Bafatá region, Guinea-Bissau.

‘’I am very proud to have the opportunity to contribute to raising the awareness of my community on how to stay COVID-19 free’’.

For Ramatulai and her friends, assisting their community amid the Covid-19 outbreak which has caused more than 40 deaths so far in Guinea-Bissau, has always been a daunting task. The girls choose to focus on rural communities, especially in remote areas. One of these communities was Sintchan-Fanca, a community located in Bafatá region, Guinea-Bissau, where health care and education systems are extremely weak and insufficient, therefore exposing community members to higher risk of COVID-19 contamination.

Moreover, as the virus spreads around Sintchan-Fanca, the fragile economy of this remote community is being negatively impacted. The population has been struggling to cope financially and lacking access to information that could have helped them improve their living conditions. Furthermore, as a result of the pandemic, the most vulnerable members of the community (mainly young girls and boys) have been exposed to some protection risks, among others child labour, early pregnancy, and child marriage.

How to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 in Sintchan-Fanca community has been one of the main issues of concern for Ramatulai, Djenabu, Assanato and Cadidjato. At a time when the fear of COVID-19 contamination was high, the four brave girls understood that for their own safety and that of their community they needed to act. Hence, they started conducting door-to-door activities to raise awareness about the COIVD-19 prevention measures and share key information about the virus.

Adolescents awareness raising visit in their community
From left to right, Ramatulai, Djenabu, Penda (community animator), Cadidjato and Assanato during a COVID-19 awareness raising visit in their community, Sintchan-Fanca, in the Bafatá region, Guinea-Bissau.

‘’This project has allowed me to increase my confidence and understanding that education is the most powerful solution to unblock our future’’, Ramatulai Seidi adds.

For more than 4 months the young girls participated in training on children’s rights and basic journalism techniques, held prior to the COVID-19 outbreak through UNICEF-supported Adolescents Girls Education Empowerment and Participation Project. The training has provided them with the necessary knowledge, communication skills, and competencies to enable them to develop a successful COVID-19 awareness raising campaign.

Djenabu showcasing the correct handwashing techniques
far centre, Djenabu showcasing the correct handwashing techniques during the visit to one family in their community, Sintchan-Fanca, in the Bafatá region, Guinea-Bissau.

The door-to-door campaign led by the four courageous adolescents has proved to be one the most successful ways to speedily raise awareness about the COVID-19 outbreak in remote communities. Understanding the power of good communication, Ramatulai, Djenabu, Assanato and Cadidjato, have used their skills and worked hard to engage with the community members and pass on main COVID-19 prevention measures. The girls’ messages were straightforward:

  • Clean your hands often, using soap and water
  • Wear a mask when in public
  • Practice physically distancing whenever possible
  • Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing
  • Cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a tissue when you cough.
Quidi Baldé and Djenabu Seidi, listening attentively to the information provided by the adolescents.
Far right, Quidi Baldé and Djenabu Seidi, listening attentively to the information provided by the adolescents.

‘’I have participated in this project since the beginning. I have seen that our adolescents have not only increased their sense of identity and civic engagement, but also how they are more respected within their community’’ says Quidi Balde. ‘’ Moreover, they should be praised for sharing information with us on how we can stay safe during this Covid-19 period’’ she concludes.

The fact that the young girls were enrolled in the Children’s Rights and Basic Journalism Techniques Training prior the door-to-door campaign has contributed to the success of their endeavors. Indeed, it has allowed them to meet qualified staffs who provided them with high quality skills useful for their community activities. Furthermore, the project has not only helped the girls raise awareness about the strong value of education but also increased the appreciation of elders and other young peoples from their community towards them. The girls are now considered as role models for the community.

The Adolescent Girls Education Empowerment and Participation Project is funded by UNICEF National Committee of France.