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Indigenous People and COVID-19

Indigenous people, who were identified as one of the groups at heightened risk for COVID-19, often lack information about the situation the world is in. Many times they receive this information via third parties when it is no longer useful or it is already out of date. Hygiene education is something that we in the Western world take for granted because it is taught to us, drilled into our minds constantly. On the other hand, indigenous groups may not be aware of the connection between microscopic germs and illness.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we and the Batwa community are working through these uncertain times hand in hand, cultivating the arabica coffee farms and tending to the rabbits. The pandemic has led to food insecurity in many indigenous communities, which is where the need for agriculture comes in. While travel and lockdown restrictions have loosened up in Uganda, the pandemic is far from over. Perhaps most importantly, the need for proper hygiene and constant education remains crucial in the everyday lives of the Batwa — and staff — to protect ourselves and each other from the virus.

We have provided the Batwa of Kalehe village with masks and tippy taps that allow them to wash their hands with clean water and soap without having to touch anything (we have clean water in a tank down the hill for drinking but it doesn’t go to individual homes). We also provided radios to listen for the latest news. We made sure to implement these sanitation systems at the onset of the pandemic and we continue talking to them daily about the importance of maintaining hygiene, as well as promoting mask wearing at all times whenever they go out in public or are around a non-family member. Even the young kids have and wear masks!

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago, several Kalehe village Batwa took down the tippy taps they'd set up last year, saying they believed that the pandemic is over since the government opened up! Blessedly, COVID-19 hasn't hit Uganda as hard as in the U.S., but we not only clarified the pandemic is far from over, but had them re-install their tippy taps immediately. Hygiene is crucial for health whether there’s a pandemic or not—flu and myriad other diseases spread by bacteria and viruses and handwashing with soap helps reduce their spread. Therefore, it is vital that we continually educate the Batwa and everyone about its importance.

Who says educating the masses to wash their hands can't be done in a fun way? Ugandan musician Bobi Wine and fellow artist Nubian Li stress the essence of good hygienic practices with a catchy tune and the signature rhumba melodies of East Africa.

“The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim,” Wine sings in his coronavirus PSA song, “But the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.”

The song just strikes the right note and really drums it into one's head about social distancing and looking for flu-like symptoms! Music has been instrumental in tackling other outbreaks in Uganda. Songs about HIV/AIDS by another Ugandan crooner, the late Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, helped spread awareness in the 1980s and 90s and bring down sky-high infection rates. In Senegal, activist hip-hop group Y’en a Marre have recorded a rap about washing hands, disposing of used tissues and avoiding crowds in their latest release:

"Shield against Coronavirus." American jazz musician Roy Ayers once said "the true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers."


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