It is our belief that the people themselves are always the best resource in a refugee community. They are the most aware of the needs of their own community, and are best able to help problem solve solutions within the camps. That said, refugee communities must also be seen as one of the most vulnerable and susceptible communities to a COVID-19 outbreak, especially in protracted and isolated regions of the world where many depend primarily on WhatsApp and social media for information. The response to COVID-19 has been through slow and uncoordinated communication for the most remote of refugee communities.
Further, in order for the message to be received and adopted by the local community, refugee leaders themselves need to be seen as assets in the process to co-create and deliver the message. By working with community leaders, experts in the field, and sourcing accurate information, we can create and disseminate relevant and localized messaging about what precautions to take, how to protect the most vulnerable in their community, and what to do if someone gets sick.
iACT created a team of refugee/displaced leaders, public health and epidemiology experts, and volunteers to create simple, yet essential information that can be disseminated by WhatsApp, as posters in camps, or by word of mouth in remote refugee camps and sites. The information has been disseminated in two forms: 1) a longer letter that includes information on COVID-19, precautions, symptoms, myths vs facts, and handwashing information, and 2) a shorter one-page poster that can be shared via an image or printed and shared. This information has been made available so far in the following languages: English, French, Farsi, Arabic, Swahili, Kirundi, Sorani, Kurmanji, Burmese, and Karen.
To share these resources, iACT created a global network of leaders in camps and sites from Chad, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Greece on WhatsApp. Here they are sharing ideas and their own actions on how to share this information. Some are calling meetings (and practicing social distancing), a few are able to print the documents, and others are sharing the poster images via WhatsApp to more community members.
In order to further support a localized, refugee-led response to COVID-19, iACT is currently collecting answers to a survey via community leaders. This survey seeks to understand what information NGO’s are providing and actions they are taking to prepare refugee and displaced communities; is there adequate access to basic health and hygiene products like soap and water; what other sources of information are people learning about the virus from; what the nutrition and medical situation looks like in the camp; how is the local camp community feeling about the situation, and; a message they would like to share with the world. Answers to this survey will help refugee leaders and iACT work together to create the next steps in preparation for and communication about COVID-19.