Amid an infodemic, volunteers help families make sense of COVID-19
UNICEF is partnering with Nahdlatul Ulama to deploy volunteers directly to communities with accurate information on how to stay safe during the pandemic
Over the past year, the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak has been accompanied by a massive infodemic: an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not. The flood of public messaging, which at times contradicts what was previously thought to be true, can make it challenging to keep up with the latest facts and verify that they came from a trusted source.
“Only medical professionals and sick people should wear face masks.”
“Now, everyone should wear a face mask, especially in public places.”
For Muri, a mother of two who lives in a crowded neighbourhood in North Jakarta, the varying guidance left her uneasy as social restrictions began to ease.
“I’m scared,” she said. “We don’t know the conditions of other people, so I’m afraid to go out.”
In order for communities to protect themselves against the virus, making sure they have the right information is critical. While a number of groups have been carrying out activities to raise awareness on COVID-19, much of these are done via social or broadcast media. With the potential for hoaxes and misinformation to spread at lighting speed through online channels, it can be more effective to go directly to residents.
“Culturally, Indonesians – especially those from lower income families and living in rural areas – have more trust in face-to-face communication as a source of motivation for behaviour change, such as when they meet with midwives and religious or community leaders,” explained Risang Rimbatmaja, a behaviour change communication expert.
As a response, UNICEF is partnering with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one of the largest Islamic organisations in Indonesia which has branches of volunteers involved in outreach efforts around the country. The partnership leverages the organisation’s network of volunteers to support efforts that encourage behaviour change to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Collaborative hard work between all the components in the country is needed to bring an end to the pandemic with minimal deaths,” said Risang. “Therefore, [these partnerships] can also be a way to bring our country together.”
Keeping communities informed and healthy
In a colourful, brightly lit room in the Warakas posyandu (community-level health post) in North Jakarta, health worker and NU volunteer Ike Ni’mah leads a group of residents during an awareness session on COVID-19 organised by NU.
Because Ike has already worked with the community in Warakas on multiple health issues, including in the posyandu and on tuberculosis prevention, she is well-known among residents. During the session, she greets participants by their names and moves with ease among the group, readily responding to any questions or comments.
A housewife and mother of two, Ike isn’t afraid to speak up about following health protocols. She recounted how she told a salesman to leave her house the previous week because he wasn’t wearing a mask.
“Even though we’re women and mothers, don’t be afraid to tell off the people who come to our homes and are not wearing a mask!” she told the participants.
Ike’s work is essential for her community, so providing her with the right skills is key. To support thousands of field volunteers, UNICEF, NU and Muhammadiyah (another Islamic organisation in Indonesia) are providing trainings on topics such as basic knowledge of COVID-19, behaviour change communication, mental health, online reporting and photo documentation. The trainings are given through online webinars, which usually include 100 volunteers, and through a series of messages via WhatsApp.
After attending the trainings, Ike and her colleagues began to organise the awareness sessions and to help distribute masks and hand sanitiser. They usually communicate with residents through WhatsApp, but also make house visits to see those who don’t have mobile phones.
“My main task as a volunteer is to spread information,” Ike explained. “Directly or online, to the community and to other health workers.”
The awareness sessions have helped residents like Muri, who says that she and her family now follow Ike’s instructions to always wear masks when going outside and to wash their hands at the nearby handwashing station. Although life is slowly returning to usual, Muri insists that she and her husband have to stay vigilant, especially for their two children.
“My activities now are somewhat back to normal, unlike at the very beginning [of the pandemic] when I was stocking up on food,” she said. “But we still have to look out for ourselves, our family and the neighbourhood.”