A young group of Covid warriors in rural Rajasthan is leading the charge to educate and protect their communities to fight the challenge of an infodemic triggered by the misinformation circulated via social media, which has led to instances of vaccine refusal and resistance to following the Covid-19 safety protocols.
While countering the wave of myths and misinformation around vaccines and promoting social distancing and mask use, these adolescents have been busy providing the locally contextual information. These youngsters are led by the Population Foundation of India's Feminist Adolescent Youth-led Action (FAYA) programme.
Rakesh Parmar, a resident of the Dabella village in Dungarpur district, formed a team with his friends during the lockdown, to provide healthcare support to his community. "We coordinated with frontline workers to spread the information on safety measures and ensured that the community members followed social distancing norms and stayed at home during the lockdown. When a medical team visited our village for Covid-19 screenings, we helped them get everybody's full cooperation," Rakesh says. His team's specific focus was to ensure the availability of health services to young girls and women.
Teena, 17, hails from the Malikheda village, Dungarpur. "During the pandemic, I volunteered and created awareness around the Covid symptoms in my community," she says, "I informed people about the virus transmission and on the importance of safety protocols and social distancing."
Community efforts in adolescents, is a great effort to engage the young ones in civic services.
Rinku, 18, from the Jaal ki Jhonpariyan village in Bundi district, studies in Class 12 and is an active member of the FAYA group.
She says, "I have been spreading awareness on the adolescent health issues among my peers and even their parents. To address the paucity of sanitary napkins in our village during the Covid-19 lockdown, I contacted the Anganwadi workers and facilitated the distribution of free hygiene products."
In a nation where female hygiene and anatomy is an unspoken taboo, this initiative sensitises young girls towards a naturally biological process.
Also generating awareness around the spread of Covid and motivating community members to wear masks, is 15-year-old Anil, from Bawdi, Tonk. He says, "I am constantly making efforts to break the taboos associated with adolescent sexual and reproductive health. My goal is to be as vocal as possible about these issues and inspire my peers as well."
Fellow 15-year-old Limka lives in the Talibpura village of Tonk district and has been making door-to-door visits in her village to spread awareness about Covid appropriate protocols. "I also support frontline workers in conducting surveys and screening in my village," she says.
Vaccination hesitancy, a very real and prevalent topic in the rural areas of Rajasthan, is being tackled by 17-year-old Umesh, from Mohammed Nagar of Tonk district. He has been motivating villagers to overcome vaccine hesitancy and says, "I am facilitating their visits to the vaccine centres and generating awareness around measures to prevent Covid spread."
Shalu, from Chuli, Tonk, says, "I stitched masks at home and distributed them in my community to motivate them to wear masks and helped frontline workers in spreading the Covid related information."
Naman is a 16-year-old from the Barwas village of Tonk district. After a keen observation of his fellow villagers, he saw the prevalence of vaccine myths and volunteered to help the frontline workers in conducting a vaccine survey, to help counter these rumoured ills. He says, "I encouraged my family members to get their vaccination shots and I am motivating others to do the same."
In these tough times, adolescents have stepped forward and are helping in reducing the risk from Covid-19 along with explaining the urgency of working to end the pandemic by getting vaccinated and following Covid appropriate behaviours. This will go a long way to provide strength and encourage everyone to work together at the community level.