Mumbai Youth Become Public Health Ambassadors
From Mumbai’s impoverished and overcrowded communities, children and teens have emerged as unlikely pandemic heroes. They are using their newfound understanding of disease prevention and health promotion to educate their families and neighbors about the importance of hygiene, and more, amid the COVID-19 emergency.
“Around the world, health education has been critical in the fight against the coronavirus,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “This is especially true in communities without internet access, without the ability to socially distance, without adequate sanitation, and without foundational knowledge about how to combat illness. In these situations, grassroots campaigns are often the only option—and it’s one that our Salesian missionaries in Mumbai have embraced.”
With assistance from the Don Bosco Development Society (the planning and development office in Mumbai Province), Salesian missionaries have been fanning out into the city since the pandemic first emerged, bringing health and safety workshops directly to those who need them most—with a special focus on women and children.
“Around the world, in so many communities where our missionaries serve, women and children play a vital role in sharing knowledge,” explains Fr. Gus. “And, as we learned during West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, children have the potential to become trusted health messengers for their families. When it’s physically or logistically impossible to reach every member of a community, these girls and boys can help amplify crucial information quickly. When our missionaries conducted health awareness sessions for children in some of Mumbai’s most populated areas, they had this strategy in mind.”
For the past year, the Don Bosco Development Society has facilitated such sessions, educating youth on the importance of handwashing, proper hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing. Recently, educators have begun including vaccination information as well. In January, 66 girls and boys from Vadodara alone participated in a health training workshop.
While it’s impossible to quantify the results of this approach, missionaries have observed evidence of positive behavior change. Hopefully, these newly “named” public health ambassadors will truly make a life-saving difference in their communities and beyond.
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