The current coronavirus pandemic has brought far-reaching consequences to communities across the globe: pushing health systems to their limits, isolating vulnerable individuals and worsening pre-existing inequalities.
Seefar works with severely affected communities in East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, East Africa, North Africa, West Africa, the Sahel, and Europe, delivering communication campaigns to people at risk of human trafficking or unsafe migration. In close consultation with our safety and security advisers, our local teams and our donors, we have rapidly adapted and expanded our campaigns to keep our personnel and beneficiaries safe, and to address new and urgent information needs.
Safety first: Adapting activities to protect personnel and beneficiaries
As the virus began to cross borders, our immediate priority was to ensure that our campaign activities were not putting anyone at risk. We began by providing health and safety training to our teams on the ground on coronavirus preventative measures. When it became apparent that the virus was reaching our communities, we stopped face-to-face interventions, including events, face-to-face consultations, educational and religious outreach, and in-person meetings.
Understanding what coronavirus means for our beneficiaries
From the moment our beneficiaries began to perceive coronavirus as a threat, changes in their priorities, concerns and attitudes have been palpable: their livelihood sources are affected by lockdown; their mobility is restricted; and they are being bombarded with fake news.
By gathering qualitative and quantitative insights from our beneficiaries through remote consultations, surveys, and other monitoring tools, our teams have identified emerging trends in migration motivations, common misconceptions about the virus and its impact on society, and above all a tangible need for support and advice from reliable sources.
Health messaging: Responding to new information needs
As trusted voices in their local communities, our Word-of-Mouth Counsellors (WOM Counsellors) are in a privileged position to be able to support others by providing reliable and up-to-date information about coronavirus. Having identified this opportunity, we trained our counsellors on key health messages so that they can counter misinformation and change risky behaviours among our beneficiaries. We are continuously drawing on advice from official sources, such as the World Health Organization, to produce materials which are adapted to the needs, literacy levels, languages and preferred communication styles of our beneficiaries, such as videos with voiceovers in local languages, like Bambara in Mali.
Ensuring continued community influence from home
As outlined in our 3E Impact method, direct community influence is at the heart of our campaigns, so when all personnel have been asked to stay at home, how do we continue to engage with our beneficiaries?
First, our WOM Counsellors switched from face-to-face consultations to phone consultations. As we usually offer remote consultations for hard-to-reach populations under normal circumstances, we had the infrastructure and processes in place to ensure a seamless transition. We then leveraged our pre-existing online presence to advertise these consultation services. However, we cannot rely solely on online channels where internet connectivity is limited. For this reason, our counsellors also implement offline methods to reach beneficiaries remotely, including partnerships with local community groups, radio advertising and referral systems.
Our in-person events have also been replaced by alternative activities, such as radio programmes in which the audience can phone in and ask questions. One example of a remotely-held event which proved popular with the audience was an interview between one of our Kurdish media experts and a well-known doctor. They discussed the impact of coronavirus on Kurds at home and abroad. As the interview was streamed live on Facebook, they were able to answer the audience’s questions in real time.
Although education centres are closed, we continue to conduct adapted educational outreach activities. We have developed educational materials, such as comic books and video series with accompanying lesson plans, which are available to students, parents and teachers online. Furthermore, our Educational Outreach Officers (EOOs) continue to provide training sessions to teachers remotely. As many teachers lack reliable internet connection, our EOOs have adapted training so that teachers can receive it via telephone, either using mobile messaging applications or offline calls.
Are you interested in finding out more about how the threat of coronavirus is affecting migration trends and motivations? Then follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. We are currently conducting a survey of over 1,000 respondents across four countries and will share the results soon.