Bringing help to communities in rural Africa to beat Coronavirus

The digital divide in rural Africa means that some people receive life-saving public health messages while others are left in the dark, possibly unaware of Coronavirus. When many people don’t even have access to running water to wash their hands, how can charities stop Coronavirus in remote rural communities?

Amanda Crookes, Gender and Social Inclusion Coordinator at Send a Cow talks us through how to bridge the digital divide during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Send a Cow is a sustainable development charity, supporting people to grow their own futures, free from poverty and hunger. As such our project participants are based in rural Africa, and contacting them during lockdown can be a challenge – there are varying degrees of movement permitted in different countries.

Not everyone has access to radios, TVs and mobile phones, let alone the internet. In addition, people don’t always have the money to buy phone credit, especially during this global crisis.

This ‘digital divide’ in rural Africa is less about a gap in digital skills and more of an issue with the means to access all forms of communications technology; technology that is proving so vital in public health measures around the world.

Although more people on the continent have a mobile phone than a flushing toilet, the people that we work to support, are living off the land, hand-to-mouth. And the digital divide means that some of our family farmers have been receiving life-saving health messages while others are in danger of being left behind. With so many people lacking access to running water to wash their hands, working around this barrier to information is urgently needed.

There is a range of methods in place across Africa to help overcome this, however. In Rwanda for example, we have reports that the government is sending drones with loudspeakers into rural communities to broadcast hand-washing and social distancing messages to reach people en masse.

In contrast, at Send a Cow, we are utilising our extensive network of self-help groups to maintain communications with rural communities remotely. Our in-country staff are in touch with champions in the community otherwise known as ‘peer farmers’, who receive up to date messages via WhatsApp, text and mentoring and coaching phone calls. They can then pass on the information, and because they are already trusted members of the community – we’re seeing quick changes in behaviour that will save lives.

We include information on how people can protect themselves from the virus when they don’t have running water. Handwashing is a key part of our work in rural Africa and is of course the first line of defence against Coronavirus. To overcome water access issues, we’ve been scaling up our WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)  work, to make sure as many families as possible can make their own tip tap – a simple, effective and affordable solution.

Advice on what food crops to plant and when is also vital at this time. We have been providing people with high quality seeds and food aid where necessary, to respond to this crisis. In sub-saharan Africa 80% of people in the last two weeks have reportedly felt worried that they won’t have enough to eat*. For millions of people, the impending food crisis is equally as worrying as the current coronavirus outbreak.

The digital divide still very much exists, but through our existing networks in rural communities we are working hard to make sure that nobody gets left behind. You too can help, by supporting the Together Appeal and sharing this article to raise awareness.

Further information about Send a Cow’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic can also be found here

*taken from geo-poll report, end of April.

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