Odisha tribal volunteer speaks the local way to fight Covid

She recorded Covid messages in Kui language using a basic application on her mobile phone to create awareness among Dongria Kondhs.
Parbati works for the non-voluntary organisation South Orissa Voluntary Action (Photo | EPS)
Parbati works for the non-voluntary organisation South Orissa Voluntary Action (Photo | EPS)

Even as rest of the world had quickly embraced the new normal of life to fight Covid 19, phrases like 'social distancing' and 'hand hygiene' were either bizarre or lesser-prevalent among the tribal population in two remote villages of Rayagada district - Parsali, and Sunakhandi.

Forget these borrowed phrases from the west, they weren't even aware of the Odia words 'Samajika Durata'. Because, the Dongria Kondh communicate in their own language ‘Kui’ which has a character and structure of its own.

But the language hurdle couldn't hinder the spread of Covid awareness among these vulnerable tribal group. The voice of 22-year-old Parbati Hikaka turned out to be their ray of hope. She spoke to them about the ways to precautionary measures against the virus in a dialect close to their heart and mind.

Parbati, who works for the non-voluntary organisation South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA), recorded the Covid messages in Kui using a basic application on her mobile phone. It was her passion to serve the community that made her undertake the difficult task.

Despite having limited resources, she didn't give up the challenge of explaining the pandemic and its consequences to the tribals who had barely travelled out of the villages, where electricity and access to safe drinking water are still viewed as 'luxury.' Nestled among the hills and lush green forests, only 20 per cent of these villages have access to the power supply.

"Communicating with the communities on Covid-19 related precautions has been a challenge for programme implementers, as most of the materials and messages were developed in Odia. Unable to follow the videos or audio messages on Covid awareness due to linguistic differences, the villagers would hardly attend the community meetings organised to educate them about the pandemic. Even those who did come would leave midway. It was important to engage with them, help them understand the Covid situation and inform them about the precautions they must take," said Parbati who was also supported by UNICEF.

"When Parbat's recorded messages were played at a meeting using a speaker, the difference in their interest and attention was palpable. People started attending community meetings. Women in particular asked questions and wanted to know more about Covid," said Ashok Kumar Kosolya, a member of SOVA.

Inspired by the initial success, the voluntary organisation procured two speakers for sending the messages across all villages in the tribal region. So far, 250 people have been reached through Parbati's audio messages, added Kosolya.

Following Parbati's words, villagers adopted the norms of the new normal. "We have seen people adopt healthy behaviours after listening to the audio messages. Tribal community members have told us they are taking precautions, maintaining social distancing and are washing their hands properly," claimed Ashok.

As a partner of UNICEF, SOVA works closely with tribal communities on the State Government and UNICEF's joint initiative -`JibanSampark' aimed at improving lives of women and children belonging to the vulnerable tribal groups."The use of recorded messages to overcome the language barrier is an innovative and effective approach for creating greater knowledge about Covid and how to stay safe," said Monika Nielson, UNICEF's Chief of Field Office for Odisha.

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The New Indian Express