In difficult times, comes the ultimate test of unity.
Wadi has been closely following the public reaction and working to increase public understanding of the pandemic since the beginning of Corona in Kurdistan back in February 2020. The lockdown, which went on for months, was very difficult emotionally, financially and psychologically for almost all people in Kurdistan.
In August 2020, Wadi launched its “Citizen to Citizen Corona Campaign (C4)”. The campaign is a citizen led call to people asking them to take responsibility as citizens, to take the simple actions (social distance, mask wearing and hand-washing) to care for their own health, each other’s health and those of their community members. A call to take action to help protect themselves from COVID-19. Wadi targeted the areas that we felt were somewhat neglected by the government and organizations in terms of awareness, like Ranya, Garmyan and Halabja.
Wadi worked first by providing awareness raising tools such as information brochures, posters and facemasks for the general public on a daily basis. We targeted the most popular places that people crowd like traditional markets, supermarkets, bus stops and health clinics. People did not view the situation seriously at the beginning of the campaign. They mostly believed it was a hoax or some governmental or political game. Many people openly mocked at our teams saying “you are wasting your time. It’s all a big lie”.
Our teams did not give up, as we could see how bad things could get in such a close knit society, if people continued not to take it seriously. We started holding small dialogues and seminars with people following the guideline of the Health authorities and WHO about keeping social distances, wearing masks and avoiding crowds. Wadi has consistently worked in the form of community dialogues, and long-term trust building. We provided information on the virus and protection methods with WHO as the source of info. What we saw was that people did not have access to good information due to the language barrier, and this left them vulnerable to the massive amounts of Fake News that is readily available on social media.
Domestic violence and mental health were also discussed as the lockdown has caused a wave of anxiety (economic and other) and depression among people, contributing to increased domestic violence, murder and suicide cases in the region.
Meanwhile, Kurdish media was not precise enough. More explanation on why people need to follow health instructions and how, especially when it comes to children. The media as a whole was somehow confusing people more than helping them.
The request and demand for more awareness and follow-ups increased as the rate of cases rose every month and the government failed in providing proper and convincing instructions as well as failing in paying monthly salaries to the health workers and all government employees. Stress continued to rise as more people became sick, the lockdown continued, and few people received their salaries.
Another concern was education, as schools usually start in September. However, because of the situation, the plan for schools was different in each province; in Erbil and Duhok, first and second grades started attending schools and the rest of the grades were planned to attend online classes. In Sulaymaniyah and the surrounding areas, only private schools started, the governmental ones did not open because of both the corona situation and lack of salaries. Clearly the situation is quite a mess.
We were preparing to take the campaign to schools just like our ‘No to violence campaign’. But, through our prep work we learned that even if social distancing is kept in classes, it was not possible on the school buses. The children we were able to talk to seemed to have very low levels of information about COVID and how to protect themselves. The ministry of education decided in November to shut down schools and all educational centers for a period of one month. After that, they will assess the situation for future plans. We are also currently assessing how best to share this campaign with schools.
Our team in Duhok also started conducting the campaign in the refugee camps in that area as the situation was getting worse there.
Wadi is also taking a more local approach; funding reusable face masks that are made by local women in Halabja and elsewhere. We hope we can encourage people to make masks on their own and use the disposable ones less as they are expensive and harm the environment.
In the past three months, Wadi provided 16000 single use masks and 1500 reusable masks, 2220 posters, 3800 floor stickers for social distancing indicators and 2200 awareness brochures.
We believe that involving people to promote the idea of citizenship and taking responsibility as a community is a powerful motivator.