Training on COVID-19 key behaviours helps boost a girl’s self confidence

IPC training on key preventive behaviours, handwashing and mental health helps dispel children’s fears

Irfan Khan
Jannat Bibi, a Hygiene Promoter, delivering an IPC session to Sara and her brothers
UNICEF/Pakistan
23 March 2021

Swat, Pakistan, 23 March 2021 – Ten-year-old Sara lives in Chupriyal, a village in the Swat district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, located along the border with Afghanistan. Swat is known as “the mini Switzerland” for its forests, green alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains. It also contains many remnants of major Buddhist sites dating back to the ancient kingdom of Gandhara that once stretched over today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Pakistan in February 2020, Swat was one of the four districts of KP that were the hardest hit. Both the federal and provincial government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions to help reduce virus transmissions.

As schools closed down, Sara had to stay at home with her two brothers. Her father’s small shop in the village was also closed, depriving the family from its only source of livelihood.

“Because of COVID-19, our daily lives got disrupted and we found ourselves without an income,” Sara tells. “This created a lot of stress and fear in me and took a mental toll. For many nights, I could not sleep. All I could think of as I laid in bed was how deadly the virus seemed, how people were dying, how we did not know how this diseased functioned. I feared what the future would bring.”

The limited Internet connectivity access in the district made it more difficult to access information on the virus and prevented children from attending online classes while schools were closed.

But with or without Internet, information was on its way. Soon, the village was visited by hygiene promoters. They were part of a project aimed at Improving infection prevention and control (IPC) supported by UNICEF and implemented by SABAWON, a civil society organization, under the FCDO funded IOM-led Natural Disaster Consortium.

In four hilly districts of KP, hygiene promoters visited health care facilities, schools and communities. They used social and behaviour change communication techniques to educate people on the virus.

In Swat, Jannat Bibi conducted door-to-door visits to educate women, adolescent girls and children on key COVID-19 preventive behaviours such as washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds regularly, wearing a mask and staying at least six feet away from other people.

One of the houses which she visited was Sara’s.

“When Jannat visited our compound, I was able to learn more about the virus at last. In particular, I learnt the measures I could take to protect myself, my family and others from catching the virus,” Sara says.

“Moreover, Jannat taught us how to manage our emotions when confronted with a new and rapidly changing situation.”

The IPC sessions conducted by Janat have helped to dispel Sara’s fears about COVID-19.

Sara and her brother show their hands after washing them with soap, in line with COVID-19 SoPs.
UNICEF/Pakistan
Sara and her brother show their hands after washing them with soap, in line with COVID-19 SoPs.

“Now that I know how I can protect myself from the virus and take care of myself and others, I can live with the pandemic,” she says with a smile.

Sara is now practicing all the key preventive behaviours and incites her brothers, parents and neighbours to do the same. She does not hesitate to demonstrate how to wash one’s hands with soap step-by-step herself. When she plays, she encourages other children to stay away from others to abide with physical distancing. She has become a leader in own peer-to-per education effort in her community.

Sara’s father is proud to see his daughter actively contribute to reduce the transmission of the virus.

Sara is very driven. She explains the key behaviours candidly and passionately. People enjoy talking to her, and after they have finished listening, they start practicing the behaviours she told them about,” he tells. “The hygiene promoters have helped boost her self-confidence and her self-esteem.”

“Now that I know how I can protect myself from the virus and take care of myself and others, I can live with the pandemic”

Sara
Sara teaching other children how to wash their hands with soap.
UNICEF/Pakistan
Sara teaching other children how to wash their hands with soap.

This is no small feat in Swat’s conservative communities.

More than 100,000 people benefited from the project in four districts of KP that were particularly affected by COVID-19 -- Swat, Malakand, Upper Dir and Lower Dir.