Matriarchs Help Spread the Word

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
A volunteer in Tajikistan conducting training on social distancing
Shahzodai Mirzoazim, a daughter of the volunteer

In Tajikistan, the strength of the community is based on tradition. Traditions are what bind people together, creating shared experience and reminding everyone that they are part of something larger than themselves. Elderly men and women act as stewards of these traditions, ensuring that they are incorporated into everything, from weddings to ceremonies that celebrate the birth of a child. While these traditions are important to honor, bringing together thousands of people for Friday prayers at the mosque or hundreds of people for a traditional wedding amidst the COVID-19 pandemic can put individuals at increased risk of sickness and even death.

With the looming threat of COVID-19, volunteers from the Red Crescent Society, supported by USAID’s Eliminating Tuberculosis in Central Asia project, are actively working to inform people in Tajikistan about how to protect themselves and stop the spread of COVID-19. These volunteers are well-versed in the community traditions of Tajikistan and are leveraging the traditional authority of the elderly in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are conducting information sessions on personal hygiene, visually demonstrating proper handwashing techniques, and explaining the necessity of practicing social distancing.

To protect themselves and those they interact with, volunteers are practicing physical distancing, keeping at least two meters distance between themselves and wearing masks at all times. Volunteers are asking elderly people to limit their social contact and always wear masks when leaving their homes. They are also advising people to call their physicians home, if they feel unwell instead of going to a hospital to avoid overcrowding limited health facilities.

Mukhiba Rofieva, a Red Crescent Society volunteer in Khujand, Sughd Province, explained during a session for older women in her community the need to strictly observe social distancing and temporarily abandon handshakes and friendly hugs, as well as postponing the celebration of significant dates that include people gathering. Initially, the women did not agree with these recommendations, and said, "How can we give up the traditions that have been respected by our ancestors?"

Mukhiba, who is from the same community, drew on her personal relationships with the women to help them understand and accept the need for temporary social distancing. This trust is how she was able to convince the women to postpone all events at this time and temporarily discontinue some of the traditions developed over centuries. Using her knowledge of the hierarchical community and family systems in Tajikistan, she was also able to harness the respect and authority of the women to effectively communicate information on preventing COVID-19 to the younger generation. The elderly women took this information and shared it with their families and others in the community, using their authority to ensure compliance. Through the efforts of Mukhiba and the other volunteers, communities in Tajikistan have the information necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, preserving life and allowing for weddings in the future to enjoy robust attendance and the much-honored traditions of Tajikistan. 

Last updated: October 23, 2020

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