Risk Communication & Community Engagement against COVID-19

-       Nigel Akuani

 

Port Moresby: A rigorous three-day Risk Communication and Community Engagement Training program aimed at improving efforts of awareness to combat COVID-19, was recently held by Caritas Australia in partnership with WaterAid PNG.

 

The three-day program from 17th to 19th June, held at the Emmaus Conference Centre Boroko, was led by Acting Program Quality & Effectiveness Manager of Caritas Australia, Ms Roslyn Kuniata; Ms Charlotte Vada, Caritas Australia COVID-19 Disaster Risk Management Coordinator; and Mr Robin Lesley, Protection Coordinator of Caritas Australia.

 

It had 25 participants who travelled in from Kerema, Madang, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Wewak and Vanimo. Participants included officials from Catholic Church Health Services, Acting Catholic Education Secretaries, Diocesan Technical Coordinators and Officers, and Social Communication personnel of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNGSI.

 

Ms Kuniata said the program was aimed at building the capacity of those involved to enable them to effectively share facts, precautionary measures and dispel myths about the coronavirus. “Many locals believe PNG is special and that we will not be harmed by the virus, this mentality has to change. It is from this program participants’ can create an impact in the mindsets of their people and cause a change in understanding and behaviour toward the virus,” she said.  

 

Ms Vada told of how the training was different based on the scenarios of Papua New Guinean communities and said it was vital to enable participants to better capture correct and reliable data essential to implementing awareness projects. ‘This COVID-19 training provides the knowledge and tools needed for participants to implement awareness and preparedness activities which incorporate actions from all responsible organisations and stakeholders,’ she said. 

 

The three-days session provided a definition and background of Risk Communication, and dwelled on its various components essential to effective implementation of awareness’ from: a history of COVID-19, dispelling myths, forming a Communication Plan, identifying groups of vulnerable people, key messaging on COVID transmission and prevention, creating low-cost handwashing stations (tippy taps), importance in planning and preparing, monitoring and evaluation tools, Community Profiling and Mapping, and developing an Action Plan.

 

Interactive game sessions were held throughout that had participants energized. A sense of fulfilment and empowerment filled the room as the program came to an official close at noon of its final day. 

 

Through further assistance from the program partners, the participants will return to their respective provinces to carry out much needed risk communication training for front line workers like teachers and health workers; especially those working in remote communities.

 

Participant comments:

 

“I am privileged to have attended this training and with the knowledge gained, our approaches at the community level of providing information on COVID-19 can be improved,” said William Kot Assistant Catholic Education Secretary of the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen.

 

“We are the engine in disseminating correct and reliable information and it is crucial that as representatives of the Church, we speak one language,” said Francis Kemaken, Diocesan Coordinator from Wewak.

 

“The training was very informative and we are prepared to reassess our methods to make them more communal and inclusive for all for people to have a better understanding of COVID-19,” said Maureen Lesley, Communication Officer of Catholic Church Health Services.

 

“This is an occasion where the Health and Education Commissions can collaborate together to improve their efficiency in schools and the health sectors when carrying out an awareness,” said Assistant Catholic Education Secretary of the Archdiocese of Madang, Khon Otto.

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