UNMISS peacekeepers educate local communities, bust myths about Covid-19 in Koch

unmiss south sudan protection of civilians awareness-raising Bentiu Koch peacekeepers peacekeeping COVID-19 coronavirus

UNMISS peacekeepers raise awareness and dispel misinformation on COVID-19 among local communities in Koch.

27 May 2020

UNMISS peacekeepers educate local communities, bust myths about Covid-19 in Koch

Luk Riek Nyak

One of the greatest challenges being faced by individuals, communities, organisations, and governments across the world is the danger posed by misinformation when it comes to preventative measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

In Koch, South Sudan, peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) took it upon themselves to support national-led efforts by the Committee of Risk Communications and Community Engagement (RCCE) to break the chain of ongoing misinformation here by sensitizing communities on key steps that need to be taken to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.

Community members, such as Mary Nyakuoth, the proprietor of a small tea stall in Koch market, were very appreciative of these joint efforts. “We had all heard that there is a pandemic, a virus that is putting many people across the world at risk for their lives. Thanks to these awareness raising sessions by peacekeepers from UNMISS I learnt how to protect myself and my family from COVID-19,” said Mary, a 35-year-old who revealed she comes into contact with some 10 people while serving them tea in as many minutes.

Since Mary’s shop is popular with a large clientele, Mary has taken it upon herself to practice preventative measures like frequent handwashing, using facemasks and physical distancing herself, as well as educate the patrons in her stall. “Now that I know what I need to do I urge my clients to wash their hands as often as possible and sneeze or cough into their elbow,” she stated.  “I lost many members of my family during the civil war here in South Sudan and I want to keep my children safe. These measures not only protect me but also others I meet regularly,” she continued.

For their part, UNMISS is coordinating with local authorities, trade unions and is running promo trucks across busy residential and market areas in Koch broadcasting key safety measures advised by the World Health Organization through loudspeakers. Large gatherings, sport events and schools have been temporarily suspended in Koch. Community leaders and local authorities admit that there were myths swirling around the people residing here but were appreciative of the mission’s efforts to provide credible health information. “UNMISS has helped us a lot to dispel rumours and misinformation ensuring that our citizens and community members are accurately informed about the protective measures they need to take at this difficult time,” said Gatkuai Gatchang, senior local government representative.

Additionally, the mission has disseminated 100 flashcards, 50 flayers and one banner in local languages to support local efforts in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. “It is our duty as peacekeepers to ensure we do whatever is within our capacity to safeguard the communities we serve in South Sudan at this critical juncture,” said Olivier Ndikumana, Communication and Public Information, adding that the UNMISS Field Office in Bentiu intends to continue similar awareness-raising activities in more far-flung villages in the region. The Field Office has also provided water tanks, soaps and other hygiene and sanitization items to local populations.