Wednesday 31 March 2021

During the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Save the Children became one of the first few organizations to activate Risk Communications and Community Engagement (RCCE) and Social Behavior Change Communications (SBCC) actions, in collaboration with the Government of Nepal and UN agencies to address the increase in cases of COVID-19. As one of the first line of actions, information on COVID-19 signs and symptoms, safety and precautions were diffused through a trans-media strategy to ensure meaningful dissemination and outreach of messages. These life-saving messages were promoted using a mix of traditional and localized media channels, such as radio, social media, SMS, IVR, IEC materials, and local miking.

Keeping children at the heart of the RCCE action

To encourage children’s voices in COVID-19 discussions, and influence child-led and child-centric RCCE/SBCC actions, child-friendly and focused messages were designed in close coordination with the Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) and National Health Education Communications Center (NHEICC). These messages were designed to promote children as ‘role models’ for positive behavior change. Information Communications and Education (IEC) materials were curated from a solution-oriented approach, highlighting underlying socio-psychological issues faced by children during the pandemic, along with the solutions. From simple steps of hand washing, mental health, to violence against children during the COVID-19 pandemic; these evidence-based materials were strategically diffused to strengthen awareness on child well-being during this unprecedented time, and increase intake of the desired ‘call of action’. 

From general messaging to a more targeted approach

Trans-media programs, such as the ‘Pawankali’ show - a comedy series utilizing humor to promote dialogue and discussion around the pandemic, ensuring the voices and concerns of children were piloted. The 26-episode program, diffused through over 300 local FM radio, television, and social media linked children's concern with political leaders, health spokesperson to the Minister of Education, where children’s voices related to COVID-19 took center stage. Similarly, utilizing an Information Technology for Development (ICT4D) approach, SMS push messages, and ‘call-to-listen’ or ‘Interactive Voice Receiver’ (IVR) services were also activated to disseminate critical life-saving messages on COVID-19, health, nutrition, child protection, and education. Capsule model radio shows targeted to parents and caregivers were designed to strengthen education and learning of children during the COVID-19 lockdown. IVR technology was utilized to disseminate radio content to parents and caregivers on topics ranging from positive parenting, tools to educate children at home, and chapters on early childhood development.

Listening to children and communities that we work with and for

‘Digital Hangouts’ - weekly virtual catch-up sessions with children from the 7 provinces was initiated to listen to what children had to say during the pandemic. Narratives of lived experiences shared by the Children during the hangouts supported with evidence-generation and informed the issue of the media programming. Furthermore, supporting with the curation of media messages and campaigns targeted to children and young people. Informed by these hangouts, Save the Children worked extensively on addressing the violence against children during the pandemic through online and offline initiations. Multiple-entry points ranging from animation videos, role model series featuring children and celebrities, comic strips, and inter-generational dialogues were initiated to strengthen reporting and help seeking behavior.

 The voices and concerns of LBGTIQ+ children and young people were featured in RCCE/SBCC messages, reinforcing the stigma and discrimination that they went through during humanitarian crisis. To address the disparity in messaging and to ensure accessibility, messages were curated from a disability and inclusive lens. This was achieved by twinning messages with sign language videos, and ensuring representation of the most marginalized voices in all materials produced. These messages were designed from a ‘role modeling’ lens - defying traditional messaging that often portrayed most marginalized communities as ‘voiceless’. But promoting them through narratives of positive deviance – pedestaling their role as ‘change makers’ or ‘catalyst’ for social and behavior norms change. Similarly, compulsory field-tests were also introduced to ensure reach, resonance, and impact of the RCCE/SBCC actions designed to aware individuals and communities on COVID-19.

More localized and external actions

To promote community led, and community owned actions, ‘awareness on the wheels’ campaign - public miking using tuk-tuks was also introduced. These campaigns led by social mobilizers, children, and youth club members diffused critical life-saving messages through public demonstration on hand washing and sanitation and engaging in public interactions to address rumors associated with the pandemic. The practice of involving communities, especially children and youth not only strengthened ownership, but also built trust of communities towards the critical life-saving messages, which in turn supported knowledge, attitude, and behavior level change. Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV) were also mobilized to conduct miking and awareness raising door-to-door campaigns on health, nutrition, and child protection.

The need for more localized collaborative action

One year from now, the vaccine has arrived, but the threat of COVID still prevails. There is a greater need to reinforce simple, yet effective life-saving messages such as, mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. But our approach should focus on ‘collaborative leadership’ – involving local and trusted voices in RCCE and SBCC programming.  As we continue to work with communities on COVID-19, it is important to continue our partnership with the communities that we work with and for, especially children and youth. To engage and involve communities in the design, development, and roll-out process, and empower them to cascade this information in their communities. Moreover, to listen to local solution-oriented practices to address the underlying issues of COVID-19, and invest on behavior insights and evidence while designing targeted actions for sustainable behavior change, which are clear, localized, measurable, and impactful.  


Written by Ayush Shrestha Joshi, Specialist - Social Behaviour Change