Faustino Wills looks forward to his regular coronavirus radio broadcasts and he tunes in faithfully every time they’re on air.
“When the time approaches, I look for my radio and lie down in my hammock to listen and learn,” he says.
Faustino lives in La Moskitia, a remote area of eastern Honduras where the Miskitu, Pech, Tawahka and Garífuna, four of the country’s nine indigenous afro-Honduran peoples, coexist.
The virus was relatively slow to reach the region. But its impact has added to the already devastating effects of hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020.
Faustino’s communities are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Their way of life is based on close community. Measures such as social distancing, and constant hand washing, and mask use are a huge challenge. The lack of communication and information to the indigenous communities, especially the more isolated ones, put them at higher risk.
To give the communities information to protect themselves from the virus UNDP along with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC), created an awareness campaign on radio stations, organized community visits and distributed protective equipment.
“Aid has arrived, but people do not arrive because in Moskitia the communities are very remote and there is no transportation,” says Donaldo Allen, president of the “Rayaka” Territorial Council. “The good thing about this delivery from UNDP and SDC is that it goes directly to the Territorial Councils. That is important because with the councils we are watching how distributions are made, relying on the radio to give notice of what supplies are sent, and to which communities.”
Engaging the community
As part of this initiative, The Indigenous Protocol for Emergency Care for COVID-19 was developed to inform about the action that must be taken to prevent the transmission of the virus, and what to do if a person is infected.
The protocol was implemented jointly by the National Risk Management System (SINAGER), the Territorial Councils, which represent the indigenous population of Moskitia, and governmental bodies. It reached around 60 community leaders who now know how to prevent COVID-19, and fight stigma and discrimination.
“They have taught us that there is a new disease that is caused by a virus. We have learned about the behaviour of the virus, how to protect ourselves through hand washing practices, the correct use of the mask, and to keep social distancing, and to not shake hands,” says Amadeo Escobar, leader of the Moskitia artisanal fishermen.
Radio in Miskitu
UNDP and SDC have developed seven radio messages and 16 live radio programmes to broadcast reliable information about COVID-19 in Miskitu the most widely spoken language in the region.
The four indigenous communities that live in Moskitia have their own languages, but they use Miskitu to communicate with each other.
These radio messages and programmes create a safe space for truthful information, since radio is the most important communication tool in La Moskitia, where most people do not even have electricity.
Young volunteers joined the campaign and are lending their voices to the radio messages. “The radio messages have been important because they have been in our mother tongue, and our people have been clearly informed of prevention measures,” says volunteer Diriam Walter
The campaign has distributed posters and brochures, where community members can read how to take care of themselves and others, and what to do in case of infection. They are distributed in public places such as churches and grocery stores.
Radio in national emergencies
Twenty people from three local radio stations, and the SINAGER Communications Committee in Moskitia have participated in a series of workshops; “The radio in times of COVID-19”.
They were trained in misinformation, discrimination and how to communicate life-saving facts — knowledge which can also be helpful for other emergencies, such as natural disasters. The seminars were given with the support of communication and broadcasting specialists from the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters and the Participatory Radio Broadcasting Association of El Salvador.
Maribel Jiménez, Director of “Kupia Kumi” Radio says they are now equipped to reach remote communities with new techniques and, to approach them in the clearest and most effective way possible.
Disseminating information in indigenous languages gives importance and respect to the customs of indigenous peoples, allowing them to protect themselves and others.
“The message goes directly to the heart and brain when it is done in Miskitu,” Donaldo Allen says.
Story: UNDP Honduras; Photos: UDP Honduras except where noted.