Janet Songolo, 50, is expecting good tidings after two gentlemen visited her house to understand how her family is coping with Covid-19.
The visitors trained with Unicef support are conducting a survey in 13 districts to assess area-specific awareness of Covid-19 prevention and response.
“Before today, no one had given us an opportunity to express what we want and what we need to fight Covid-19,” she says after a one-hour interview together with her eight children in Jalipelusi Village, Traditional Authority Chikowi in Zomba.
Songolo and her husband walk over 30 kilometres up the Zomba Mountain to fetch firewood for sale. The couple, which struggles for basic needs, requires some financial assistance to buy buckets, food and masks.
“If we get some cash, we will buy food in bulk and stop going to the market to avoid contracting coronavirus,” she says.
A recent study by Unicef in the Southern Region hit by floods revealed that communicating using right channels during emergencies supports communities to cope and recover better. According to the findings, people prefer information sources they can trust.
As such, Unicef worked with government to identify trusted frontline development workers to facilitate communication between communities and the authorities using smartphones. They included village development committee (VDC) members, child protection workers and health surveillance assistants.
Unicef is running the smartphone survey in partnership with Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, The Story Workshop Educational Trust (Swet), Development Communications Trust (DCT), United Purpose and Malawi Institute of Journalism.
They developed a dashboard which captures information about Covid-19 interventions in all local authorities using smartphones with pre-installed survey tools.
Once completed, the information automatically reflects in the ministry’s dashboard.
“The idea is to give the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development an opportunity to receive feedback from the communities, councils and districts on what is happening in the local authorities at the click of a button without waiting for paper reports or emails,” says Elton Edward, local governance and decentralisation specialist at Unicef.
Abdul Rashid Katemangu, chairperson of Thundu Radio Listening Club established by DCT, was trained to collect data using smartphones. He says the initiative has also given hard-to-reach communities a voice to suggest improvements to Covid-19 interventions.
“Expectations are huge. People are expecting to see a change in future after their submissions, through this survey,” he says.
The SmartPhone survey has also strengthened collaboration among different stakeholders, including child protection committees, VDCs and community civil protection committees.
Silaje, Songolo’s 18-year-old son, a Standard Seven learner at Chalomwe Primary School, has been stuck at home since schools closed in March.
“I heard that radio lessons are ongoing, but I have missed this opportunity since our family cannot afford a radio,” he says.
Silaje, who dreams to become a teacher, wants schools to reopen with strict preventive measures in place.
“Before schools closed, there were over 100 students in my class. A desk for two learners was being occupied by four. This has to improve to stop the spread of coronavirus,” he says.
His elder sister, Ndiuzayani, 20, became a teenage mother two years ago. She had just returned to school in Standard Eight when the schools closed. This has affected her preparation for Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations.
“I hope this will not shatter my dream to become a nurse,” she says.
Edward says it is important to get information to and from even the remote localities.
He says: “When we get data from the field, it helps us to understand what is working and what is not. The advantage is that the data is area-specific.
“We can, therefore, advocate for more tailored interventions based on the needs of the specific area. This exercise will help us understand the specific needs for a particular area and address those issues.”
Some information from the SmartPhone survey displayed on the dashboard emanates from areas without access to radio learning platforms.
Edward explains: “Previously, people used to say we can use radio, TV and drama to disseminate information, but things have changed.
“If you look at our Communication for Development Dashboard, it is coming out clearly that while radio still remains the biggest platform, social media seems to be overtaking TV as a preferred channel of communication and these are trends that programmers have to adapt to.”