Helping to spread correct COVID-19 messages to Vanuatu communities

In Vanuatu, UNICEF is reaching children and families in hard to reach communities with life-saving information to keep them safe from the global pandemic

Rebecca Olul
6-year-old Samuel has a handwashing poster and Ministry of Health approved “5 things to do and 5 things to know” posted on the bamboo wall of his house on Pentecost Island to remind him to wash his hands.
UNICEFPacific/2020/Shing
17 September 2020

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

But for many children and families, apart from access to basic water and hygiene facilities, it is equally important to know what coronavirus is, how it is transmitted and how its spread can be prevented.

In Vanuatu, UNICEF is reaching children and families in hard to reach communities with this life-saving information to keep them safe from the global pandemic.  

The Pacific island country is one of the most linguistically diverse in the world, with over 100 languages still actively spoken, making it difficult to communicate messages with so many different communities.

In doing so, the use of visual content and drama is the most preferred option of communicating messages to all communities.

Wan Smol Bag, a local non-governmental organization popular for its theatrical drama and performance, is working together with UNICEF to reach communities with information on COVID-19, which helps to address fake news.

“There was a lot of misinformation and strange rumours circulating about the virus in communities. While most people had heard of the virus, many were unsure how it was transmitted and how it could be prevented,” said Joanne Dorras, Wan Smol Bag Workshop Creator and Script Writer.

Through the Vanuatu Preparedness and Response Plan to COVID-19, the Ministry of Health and partners agreed on a national prevention messaging strategy to communicate messages to communities. UNICEF, together with Wan Smolbag Theatre, strategically engaged communities through COVID-19 workshops at targeted places, particularly at ports of entries. Participants primarily included community mobilisers from key government and non-government organisations, and key influencers within community groups.

“The workshop provided a chance for people to access correct information and gave them the space to think about steps they could take to protect their families and the wider community if the virus arrived in Vanuatu,” added Dorras.

Wan Smolbag Theatre COVID-19 Workshop Facilitators, Donald Frank, Danny Marcel, and Florence Taga travelled to Mystery and Tanna islands to facilitate workshops.

“After we held awareness sessions, I went to one of the nakamals (traditional meeting house). The chief said it was important to talk about what actions communities must take to prevent COVID-19 and to protect their families in Vanuatu,” said Donald Frank.

Rexneth Maranda and Peter Bell were part of the team that held COVID-19 workshops in the Shepherds Island of Tongoa, Tongariki and Buninga, as well as Santo and Malo islands. This team found innovative and creative ways to get community members to remember the handwashing steps. They created a story about the process of making laplap (local pudding made from rootcrops like cassava or banana) – something the community is very familiar with – and used this to explain the steps of handwashing.

Rexneth Maranda and Peter Bell were part of the team that held COVID-19 workshops in the Shepherds Island of Tongoa, Tongariki and Buninga, as well as Santo and Malo islands.
Rexneth Maranda and Peter Bell were part of the team that held COVID-19 workshops in the Shepherds Island of Tongoa, Tongariki and Buninga, as well as Santo and Malo islands.

From July to November 2020, Wan Smol Bag will engage 7,500 women, men, girls, boys and people living with disabilities. Engagement will be done through workshops similar to those run by trained facilitators as well as community engagement sessions.

During this period, communities in urban and peri-urban Port Vila and Luganville as well as the greater Efate and Santo islands will also participate in community engagement sessions.

The Wan Smolbag Theatre programme is supported by the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, National Disaster Management Office and UNICEF, with funding support from the Government of Japan and the US Agency for International Development.