survey

Jaipur: When the vaccination drive started in the country earlier this year there was worryingly low turnout initially in Rajasthan, India’s largest state. So much so that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had personally appealed to people to come forward and take the jab.

Vaccination rates have improved considerably now after interconnected groups of students from the rural areas of the desert state started a campaign to spread awareness about the vaccine.

“In the first half of the day, I visit at least ten families in my neighbourhood or in nearby villages and convince them to go for the vaccination. I start with the head of the family, motivate other members, including the kids in their houses and talk to them about the benefits of vaccination”, says Saloni Thakur a BA second year student at a degree college in Baran, a town 276 kilometers from the state capital Jaipur.

Saloni is not alone. A group of adolescent boys and girls associated with Doosra Dashak, a foundation for education and development are actively mobilising the communities to raise their Covid awareness, including the eradication of vaccine hesitancy.

As a result, along with attending online classes and chores at home in absence of a physical school, children in rural areas/villages are also creating awareness among residents regarding preventive measures against Covid, through one-on-one interactions, posters, sending messages online and physical demonstration.

Since the Covid outbreak in 2020, Doosra Dashak had slowly started educating children and creating awareness among them through online sessions. In almost all villages a WhatsApp group has been formed which has a coordinator, student leader and children associated with the organisation.

COVID Response Watch LogoIn Rajasthan, the second Covid wave has hit rural areas worst as compared to the first wave. According to the Rajasthan health minister, around 40 per cent of Covid cases in Rajasthan were from villages. This year there has been a spike in deaths in rural areas. People died gasping for oxygen, due to lack of hospital beds and other factors.
As of July 10, according to data from the Rajasthan health department daily Covid bulletin, 9,53,074 persons have contracted Covid 19 in the state out of which 8,495 passed away.

“Apart from discussing precautionary measures to be taken by children during the pandemic we also instilled a sense of responsibility in them where they as ambassadors will create awareness in their own homes as well as in villages”, says Himmat Singh, a coordinator with Doosra Dashak at Bhanwargarh village of Kishanganj block in Baran district. The children’s groups are effective as they have the trust of villagers  when it comes to information about Covid.

“The administration as well as the social groups are working hard for Covid awareness including distribution of masks, medicines, sanitiser and even helping the elderly reach the nearest vaccine centres”, Radheshyam a Sarpanch at Khankra village in Kishanganj block at Baran district said. The village has only one government senior secondary school and a government sub-health centre with three doctors to cater for the entire village.

“The people in the villages were finding it difficult to get regular updates as notified by the government daily. The children associated with us besides distributing masks medicines during the second wave were also trained how to get government information, policies and data on Covid and distribute it among those who need it”, says Ashok Swami a coordinator with Doosra Dashak at Dhanav Kela, another village in Bassi block.

In disseminating information about Covid, the students faced several challenges, but they did not lose spirit.

“There is a vaccine hesitancy in the villages. Some people are reluctant to take a jab as they think that a vaccine can kill them and women think that they will stop menstruating. The biggest challenge for us is to bust the misinformation and rumours travelling in the rural areas”, says Saloni, 18, a resident of Khankra village in Kishanganj block of Baran district.

“To convince people about the vaccine is the biggest challenge we are tackling. We go to such households with a bunch of case studies, charts, stories and data from across the country and globally which are suggestive of the importance of vaccination during Covid 19”, said Vijay Prajapat of Keshopura Village in Bassi Block.

According to  child rights experts, there is a need for such interventions where children are taught about their rights, awareness and given the responsibility to spread the word among the masses.

In the Bassi block besides breaking the taboo for vaccination, children are also creating awareness to save the environment during the Covid lockdown. They have  kicked off a campaign for example to clean their colony roads, gutters and heaps of garbage lying across their villages.

cleaning

” We feel saving our environment is equally important especially in the times when those involved in cleanliness work would hardly turn up due to the lockdown”, said Ankit Sain, a class 10th student of Keshopura Village in Bassi Block.

“In these trying times making children involve in such campaigns not only makes them responsible towards society but it’s also an effective way of spreading awareness. It also helps to give them confidence in these gloomy times. Apart from rural areas, there is a need for such interventions in urban areas also”, Vijay Goel a noted child rights expert at Rajasthan Rajasthan Bal Adhikar Sanghrakshan Sajha Abhiyan said.

Thanks to such efforts plus other initiatives Rajasthan was the first state to create a record by administering the first 50 lakh doses ( 5 million) and it was the second state to administer one crore (10 million) doses. It was also the first state in the country to breach the two-crore vaccination (20 million) mark.

However, the current shortage of Covid-19 vaccines has led to the state government shutting down many vaccination centres across the state. According to the Rajasthan health department, the decline in the number of doses began in the first week of July and the state was left with only 580 doses.

Tabeenah Anjum is a journalist and a visual storyteller based in Rajasthan.


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