Scout Volunteers Help Conduct COVID-19 Social Research and Awareness in Sierra Leone
On the request of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Cockeril, the Sierra Leone Scouts Association (SLSA) deployed a team of 25 Scout volunteers for a week-long Communication and Social Mobilization research exercise in the Commercial Business District (CBD) and Lumley neighbourhoods of the country’s capital, Freetown. The exercise aimed at assessing the compliance levels of small business holders with the COVID-19 preventive and control measures within their business environment and to promote the increased knowledge and understanding of the public about the COVID 19 disease.
The volunteers were selected from a list of 100 Scouts that took part in a house-to-house COVID-19 sensitization campaign during the pandemic lockdown in Freetown. The Scouts first went through an orientation jointly conducted by the EOC and the SLSA that covered: prevention and control of COVID-19, COVID-19 messages, community entry protocol, the role of opinion leaders, use of social media in crisis communication and reporting on small business holders assessment on the prevention of COVID-19.
The work of the volunteers included conducting interviews and harvesting concerns, rumours and feedback from business owners, customers and the general public. In total, they managed to reach 366 businesses and 2,295 people. The exercise revealed general obedience by members of the public to the preventive protocols against COVID-19 including social distancing, installation of handwashing stations and use of hand sanitizers in most places. Use of face mask was noticed amongst the public though many others still went about their business without face masks.
It was however interesting to note the number of rumours that were going round and questions asked by members of the public about the disease. Business holders clearly expressed their concerns on how the businesses had been negatively affected by the pandemic, translating to increased social and economic vulnerabilities of the already poor people. Frustrations could also be seen as the residents called on their government to do more to address the pandemic and help its citizens. The exercise also revealed the need for stepping up awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic to provide the citizens with correct and credible information to counter the many myths, misconceptions and questions.
The results of this public engagement conducted through consultations with community leaders and citizen groups will go a long way in building public trust in the COVID-19 response efforts. Listening to people’s feedback, concerns and suggestions is a sustainable way of working with the people to implement solutions that improve their ability to overcome emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The feedback, questions and rumours gathered by the Scouts were also shared with the regional risk communications and community engagement interagency working group as part of the Africa Scout Region’s ongoing collaboration with UNICEF.
For SLSA the exercise gave them an opportunity to participate to an important public engagement process that contributed to enhancing their internal capacity to engage in disaster risk reduction, risk communication and community engagement.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Scouts around the world have been responding to the needs of their communities on an individual and group level from awareness-raising to deliveries of essential items. World Scouting set up a Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund, where you can donate to help Scouts continue supporting their communities in need. All funds will be channelled directly to support National Scout Organizations.