On March 11, 2020 the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Cote d’Ivoire. And, reports of the virus drove deep concern throughout many communities. It also drove Ivorians like Yao Kouassi, a driver at the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Côte d’Ivoire office toward quick action aimed at helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
Working with the United States Government for 10 years, Yao has witnessed USAID assist fellow Ivorians in times of need. And now, as USAID and the Government of Cote d’Ivoire are reviewing how to address COVID concerns nationally, Yao sensed he could also do something on a local level. As he drove fellow colleagues through quiet COVID-shuttered streets to important meetings, Yao also thought of ways he could help curb COVID in his community.
“I have hope and know there is a need in rural areas right now,” Yao said.
Originally from Adjoumanikro, a small farming village roughly 260 km away from the capital of Abidjan, Yao started getting calls of concerns about COVID in his hometown. Many of the people in the village had questions and fears about the virus and its possibly deadly potential. With nearly 90% of Adjoumanikro's population without an education, there was a breakdown in effective communication regarding ways to stay safe from the virus. Yao realized that a campaign that shared best practices, good hygiene habits and COVID safety precautions was needed now, more than ever. Yao quickly connected with leaders in the village to organize a COVID-19 awareness sensitization campaign. He gathered creditable public information shared at USAID, as well as the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, and teamed up with two secondary school teachers. Regarded as trusted community leaders known to effectively communicate to citizens, the teachers and Yao shared information through WhatsApp and other communication outreach efforts. Yao also organized an outreach trip that safely shared information and supplies with those in need.
Combating COVID with Communication: Acting strategically and breaking cultural barriers
In addition to sharing best practices regarding COVID-19 prevention, Yao also responded strategically in efforts to help prevent the spread of the virus. Yao knew that weak hygiene and health habits could increase the spread of the Coronavirus. The rural village also needed hand washing supplies. Out of his pocket, Yao bought buckets, soap and created safe hand washing stations. However, there was another challenge. In the village, where culturally being together and sharing items are important, Yao also had to educate and share information about the importance of not engaging in common practices such as sharing a cup or eating out of the same plate. Difficult but doable, with the support of the local chief and members of the woman and youth association, Yao established a COVID education and health safety watch committee to help people practice positive public health habits.
In efforts to sustain outreach efforts, Yao and his supporters are raising money for more supplies and resources. He recently reached more than a hundred people from his region to join the cause and to contribute to buy supplies such as buckets, soap, towels and other items that many can’t afford in the village. Although the current fundraising campaign will end in a few days, there’s still a need for help. Only 20,000 FCFA, a little less than 40 USD, has been raised and more funding is needed. Most of the people from his region have low income and work in the city as gardeners, nanny or cook so their efforts
“I still have hope, he concluded on a bittersweet note”. I believe that step by step each one of us can make a difference in our community and kick COVID-19 out.”
Other local staff are working in initiatives in their communities, applying their skills to create data analysis, communications skills or just organizing fundraisers.
For more information on Yao’s efforts, you can contact: email@example.com