University students bolster COVID-19 prevention
As Indonesia transitions to a new normal with COVID-19, university students in Central Java are monitoring and promoting preventative behaviors in schools and public spaces
The sun above Semarang City was scorching that afternoon, pushing many to stay indoors. One notable exception was Megawati Sekar, 21, an undergraduate student who moved around for hours in the heat. Dressed in her university alma mater jacket, she tirelessly handed out surgical masks and flyers with information on 3M behaviours (washing hands, wearing masks and keeping social distance) to people passing by on the street.
"Doing this 3M (behaviour monitoring) for the past three weeks, I found some people complied with it only when I was around," said the third-year student. "Instead of being disappointed, I used it as a challenge to preserve even more fiercely."
Months after the deadly delta variant outbreak in 2020, Indonesia has registered a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and high vaccination rates, following a period of strict restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. However, low community compliance with COVID-19 health protocols remained a major challenge.
To support COVID-19 prevention during this time, UNICEF collaborated with 17 universities across Indonesia to equip undergraduate students with 3M monitoring skills in October 2021. The training provided university students like Megawati from Universitas Diponegoro with skills to monitor 3M behaviour and introduced them to RapidPro, a real-time monitoring platform. The data gathered by them helped identify areas with low, middle, and high risks of COVID-19 transmission.
"We collaborated with universities to ensure students could be involved in the transition to the new normal," explained Mitsunori Odagiri, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Specialist. "Their energy, creativity and dedication, supported by our real-time monitoring systems, enabled youth engagement in a meaningful way."
Post training, Megawati spent around six to eight hours a day in public spaces such as schools, local markets and bus stations to monitor and record levels of public compliance with 3M behaviours. The collected information is transmitted to the dashboard that can be accessed by the public and the government to see which areas are complying with 3M protocols and which need an immediate response from the local authorities.
"The training has shaped my awareness of my surroundings," Megawati explained. "The monitoring skills allow me to understand which locations are safer and which are prone to the spread of the virus."
A third-year psychology student, she also created informational booklets for teachers to help them ensure their students wear masks in school. Megawati initiated this after assessing why students, particularly early graders, are reluctant to wear masks.
Besides Megawati, hundreds of students and 15 lecturers from the university – spread across 286 villages in 18 districts throughout Central Java – are also took part in the programme. The eagerness of Megawati and her peers had been praised by both their lecturers and the local school community.
"Their energy, insight and skills received at the university, complemented by the 3M monitoring skills during the training, has made the programme successful," said Farid Agushybana, a lecturer at Universitas Diponegoro.
"We cannot change habits in a blink of an eye, but with our relentless effort, cooperation and a willingness to learn from each other, I am confident we will get through this, and that's where my energy comes from."
UNICEF Indonesia is grateful for the support received from key partners, including the United States Government through USAID Indonesia.