Santoshi (14) and Priyasini (13) are among the thousands of children in Kendujhar (or Keonjhar) district of Odisha, who have been learning about the science and math of the coronavirus during the lockdown. Using some of what they have learnt about this microscopic entity and how it spreads, the children have spoken with their communities about the importance of masks, hand washing, and physical distancing.
Recently, after learning about the importance of vaccination, Santoshi and Priyasini talked to their teacher and learnt the process of registering people for vaccination. Using this knowledge, they started registering people for vaccination in their villages. It wasn’t easy, since many people believe that the vaccine cause weakness, infertility, and death. These beliefs are so strong that people run away into the forests to avoid getting vaccinated. “We get scolded,” says Santoshi, “Some people tell us that we are getting paid, and that’s why we are going to them.”
Some houses even told the children, “Phir aaoge to tumhari pitai karenge” (If you come again, we’ll give you a beating). But the children have persisted; and have been challenging their elders, based on what they have learnt as part of the 1000 Schools Programme run by Tata Steel Foundation and ASPIRE. Priyasini says, “I remind them that we have taken vaccines against diseases in our childhood. We didn’t die! This vaccine will protect everyone from COVID-19.” It will especially protect people with diabetes, heart problems, and pregnant women from the virus.
And they are succeeding in convincing people. The two girls, along with other children, have already registered 213 people in 28 Adivasi hamlets in Badbil area of Joda block using their own or borrowed smartphones.
Smita Agarwal is the Head Education with Tata Steel CSR.
Know more: Understand how rebuilding trust in the public healthcare system can help combat vaccine hesitancy in rural communities.