Meet the young people using local resources to fight COVID-19 in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, one in 17 mothers face a lifetime risk of dying while giving birth.

In Sierra Leone, young people are playing a key role in the country’s COVID-19 response, with Restless Development supporting 184 young volunteers on the UK Aid funded ‘Unite for Save Lives nar Salone’ programme to respond to the pandemic in every district in the country.

These young volunteers are called ‘Community Mobilisers’. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 they were working with communities to understand the barriers they face when accessing healthcare services, raising awareness to increase the uptake of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services, and supporting vulnerable young girls to have ownership over decisions that affect their bodies, health and wellbeing.

Door-to-door awareness raising of COVID-19

When the country started confirming COVID-19 cases, the volunteers were supported to also raise awareness of the virus and how to prevent it. They’re doing this by conducting socially distanced door-to-door visits and using mobile PA systems and megaphones to spread the message. They’re holding hand washing demonstrations, community radio discussions in local languages, and supporting local leaders and local authorities to take part in relevant discussions about the virus.

Halimatu is one of our young volunteers working in Tonkolili district, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. She had been following the activities to spread awareness of COVID-19 and how to prevent it in her community, but she found that whenever she was out doing the door-to-door visits, and encouraging communities to practice frequent hand washing, most people were complaining that they didn’t have a veronica bucket or soap or resources to buy them. A veronica bucket is a bucket with a tap at the bottom to create running water for handwashing. These complaints frustrated Halimatu, and they hindered her efforts to prevent the virus. So, she took to Youtube and learned how to make a tippy-tap in order to provide a solution to the community’s problem. 

A tippy-tap is a hands-free way to wash your hands, and is particularly suited for rural areas where people can’t afford to buy veronica buckets or where it is difficult to access running water. It is operated by a foot pedal, thus reducing the chance of transmission of the virus, since the user only touches the soap.

Halimatu then discussed the idea of installing tippy-taps with the local Community Health Officer (CHO). The CHO welcomed the idea and together with Halimatu, they called for a community meeting to consult their fellow citizens about the idea. The whole community was happy about the initiative and pledged their support to provide the materials needed for the work.

Being perfect is when you make someone smile, seeing the community people smiling after installing the tippy taps was a relief for me, and the bond will forever remain. Joining hands together will help us tackle the coronavirus.

Halimatu 21, Mobilizer

Halimatu later worked with the communities and their leaders to install tippy-taps in all the five communities she’s working in as a Community Mobiliser. 

Community members installing a tippy tap in one of the communities

Only 2% of the population in Sierra Leone has access to clean, readily available drinking water, and most households lack basic sanitation.

However, with Halimatu’s proactive action to ensure communities would be able to effectively wash their hands the tippy-taps now provide a way for community members to follow the guidance and wash their hands.

The 184 young Community Mobilisers are continuing to be supported by Restless Development to raise awareness of the virus, the importance of handwashing, and how to effectively wash hands.

In June 2020 alone, Restless Development’s young volunteers and staff reached 63,600 people with our COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone, supporting vulnerable young girls and raising awareness of the virus through door-to-door visits, sessions with communities, in health facilities and with out-of-school adolescents, and using loudspeakers.

Halimatu using the tippy tap in one of the communities

There will be no excuse to not wash our hands now, because through Halima we now have our own locally made and easy to use tap to wash our hands.

Angela, 25, community member
A community member washing his hands using the tippy tap

Restless Development is continuing to support young people and communities to prevent the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone, who are reaching tens of thousands of people each month. In June 2020 alone, we reached 63,600 people with our nationwide COVID-19 response, with women making up 60% of those reached.