“Anyone Could Be Next” – Irene’s Story
How One Girl is Defending Her Community From COVID-19
In rural northern Ghana, a 12-year-old girl braves a deadly epidemic. Irene goes door-to-door. After she knocks, she takes a big step back. When they answer, she explains that she’s here to teach them how to protect themselves from COVID-19. Rumours have been flying around the community about how drinking alcohol or prayer can stop the disease, but Irene corrects them, showing her neighbours how avoiding close contact, proper handwashing, and a few other simple measures can slow the rate of infection. Once she’s done, she collects the names of any children in the home who are affected by Ghana’s school closures, so that they can be sent home study packages. Then, it’s on to the next house.
Irene has been making these stops since June, shortly after schools in Ghana shut down. Ghana has been providing radio and television lessons for children, but Tolon district, where Irene lives, is one of the poorest in the country. More than 40,000 people live in extreme poverty and cannot afford a television or radio. A lack of access to outside news also means that information about COVID-19 is spread mainly by word of mouth, with rumours and speculation mixed in with what little accurate information reaches them.
Ghana has had more than 46,000 cases of COVID-19. One of the biggest challenges Ghana’s government faces is confronting untrue rumours and skepticism about the disease.
When school shut down, Irene was stuck at home with her family, left to do chores and wondering when she would get to go back. One day, a few weeks after schools had closed, there was a knock on her door. A volunteer teacher working in a Right To Play program had stopped by. The teacher introduced herself to Irene’s parents, and explained that she was here to help them protect themselves from COVID-19 and to help Irene keep learning.
“Our neighbours do not believe the coronavirus is real,” Irene says. “I had doubts myself because my parents didn’t believe it either but after my meeting with the teacher, I have realised the virus is real.”
The teacher explained that COVID-19 was a serious respiratory infection, and that it could be prevented through proper hygiene. She led the whole family through a series of activities that taught them how wash their hands to remove the virus and guard against infections from others. Along with the prevention activities, the teacher dropped off some books and a home study package of exercises for Irene so that she could keep on practicing her reading while school was closed.
“Irene is helping to us to prevent a possible case in the community,” – Salifu, Neighbour
After her lessons about the coronavirus are complete, Irene spends time with the children outside the homes. She shares her storybooks, and the children take turns read out loud to one another at a safe distance.
Tolon district has so far been spared from an outbreak of COVID-19, partly thanks to the important preventative work of teachers and young leaders like Irene who have risen to the challenge of preparing the community. Still, she’s not relaxing until the pandemic is over.
“Anyone can be next person and you may never know,” Irene says. “We need to protect ourselves against the virus.”