The start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 was a throwback for the LILIEMA team: in order to ensure the safety of all course participants and LILIEMA team members we had to pause our ongoing LILIEMA courses. However, we quickly adapted to the new situation because we were keenly aware of the need for multilingual Covid-19 health information in order to communicate this vital information in a format accessible to local inhabitants. Therefore, we created a written multilingual Covid-19 information campaign.
In the area where LILIEMA courses were taught, very little reliable information on the prevention of Covid-19 was available. Official information from the Senegalese government was distributed on bulletins in French only. Radio and TV disseminated health information, but also broadcasted mainly in French, with only occasional broadcasts in Senegal’s national languages. Because we had taught LILIEMA literacy classes in the region, we were confident that written messages in local and national languages would be accessible to a wide readership: graduates of the LILIEMA programme, their families and members of their social networks. Our campaign reached audiences in villages without electricity (and hence without access to TV), and crucially, it included readers normally excluded from access to written information, either because it is in French, which they do not speak or write, or in languages they speak but have not learned to read and write.
The Covid-19 campaign also consolidated the importance of Senegalese LILIEMA activists as local experts driving development.
From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the LILIEMA team rallied, working together remotely over the phone and via WhatsApp and Zoom, united in the aim of creating a truly inclusive Covid-19 health information campaign. We were active in all the villages were LILIEMA teaching had already taken place and surrounding areas. Together we translated the official Covid-19 information that was shared by the Senegalese government into local languages. We built on the experiences and knowledge gathered through the development of the LILIEMA association, utilising the expertise of all members. For instance, it was essential not to create literal translations form French into local languages since the risk of losing semantic content and making the information misleading was huge. Only our different areas of expertise and multilingual repertoires enabled us to achieve this goal. As a result, LILIEMA was able to share official, reliable information accurately in a multilingual format that is understood and trusted by all.
Because of the multilingual expertise of our team, we were able to use 10 different language on multilingual posters of 9 different linguistic compositions adapted to different local multilingual ecologies in four different phases. Each poster contains information in 6 different languages chosen by the Senegalese team in consultation with village assemblies. The multilingual brochures feature 3 languages per brochure. Additionally, all materials contain graphic information to increase comprehension. The information is based on the official guidelines issued by the government of Senegal. Overall, we distributed ca. 1,500 posters and ca. 800 brochures in 16 different villages. The posters were placed at central locations: government offices, shops, bus stops and junctions, so that they were visible to a maximum of people. An overview of the campaign and materials is available here.
To measure our impact, we carried out quantitative and qualitative surveys focusing on whether audiences were able to access the message, and whether it made a difference that the information was presented multilingually and including local languages. We also enquired whether the campaign resulted in behavioral changes resulting from readers following health guidelines.
Our quantitative questionnaire comprises 8 questions that were translated in all the languages that were also represented on the Covid-19 information posters. Via Zoom and WhatsApp we trained all of the LILIEMA teachers and supervisors to carry out the questionnaire in the villages where they lived, provided that necessary protective measures were taken. The questionnaires were sent back to LILIEMA team members in Helsinki via WhatsApp and the responses were analysed in SPSS.
Responses to our quantitative questionnaire were obtained from 770 participants from different villages, 50.8% of whom were female and 49.2% male in different age groups. We were positively surprised by the fact that 82.1% of survey participants were aware of our campaign. Projected onto the number of inhabitants of all the villages where we distributed materials this means that our posters and brochures have reached approximately 10,000 people.
LILIEMA’s information was rated as reliable and trustworthy. Participants receive their information from different sources (TV, Radio, LILIEMA posters/brochures, newspaper, family and friends). The radio was rated as the most trustworthy medium (72.2%), followed by TV (46.6%) and the LILIEMA campaign (35.1%). Newspapers were only regarded as a trustworthy news source by 12.6% of the participants. In villages without electricity where TV is inaccessible, LILIEMA comes in second position as a reliable information provider, immediately after the radio. But differently to ephemeral radio broadcasts, our posters are visible permanently and our brochures can be kept for reference.
The multilingual information on the campaign materials was accessible to readers. Out of the 632 participants who stated that they have read the posters, 93.4% said that they fully understood the information, 4.6% partly understood it and only 2.1% were unable to understand it.
It made a difference that we used larger languages of wider communication and smaller, village-based languages: none of the survey participants read the information in one language only, all of them read at least two languages. The languages most accessed overall were national and regional languages of wider communication. But these languages were followed closely by languages with very low speaker numbers (around 1,000-5,000). These languages are the nominal languages of the villages involved, and they hold great importance for local identities. This result illustrates the importance of including locally confined languages.
The responses also show that the LILIEMA method of disseminating information reached its goal: for 99.7% of respondents the LILIEMA Covid-19 campaign definitely increased their knowledge of Covid-19 97.4% of the participants supported the idea of accessing this information multilingually instead of in one language only.
In addition to the quantitative survey, our LILIEMA supervisors conducted longer semi-structured interviews with 8 participants who were persons of authority in some of the villages where we distributed the multilingual Covid-19 information.
Their responses confirm the findings from the quantitative survey. Not only do respondents state that they received the information; the fact that these messages were created by local LILIEMA members and written in local languages increased their authority and contributed to creating a shared sense of responsibility:
“I trust [the information on the materials] because I’ve learnt about it on TVE, but I also trust the posters, because they have taught people a lot. LILIEMA, they are our relatives who are here, I trust them.”
Respondents also stressed the positive impact of the LILIEMA campaign regarding social distancing and other protective measures.
“The behaviours have changed, have really changed. People became quasi-immobile at a certain moment, everybody stayed in their corner, even if you show up at your friends’, they will tell you “Haha, now is not the moment to be together, respect the 1m distance.” Sometimes when you arrive people will tell you” He, have you not seen the poster that has been put up over there? Have a look at how the people [on the poster] are seated. It’s become a reference, people will tell you in Manding “Taa affichoo juube” (Go and look at the poster), it attracts attention because everybody who passes will look at it.”
Another issue emphasised by interviewees is the reliability of the information we shared. Because radio, TV and written government messages are inaccessible for lack of electricity or linguistic access to many, much information circulates on social media, where fake news abound. One respondent highlights the trustworthiness of LILIEMA as opposed to these media:
“These posters really help us take preventive measures. […] The posters say we should protect ourselves, that’s what we should take from them and that’s what I’ve shared with my family. All the things said on WhatsApp and all the others, I don’t take that into consideration, and neither does my family”
For the LILIEMA teachers and trainers, another positive effect of the Covid-19 campaign is the awareness it created for LILIEMA courses. Of course, the posters and brochures were also noticed by readers who had not taken part in LILIEMA classes and raised considerable interest in them, including the wish to be able to participate in future classes (see here).
The endorsement by local authorities and organisations and the interest of NGOs in the wider region confirm the importance and positive impact of the Covid-19 information campaign. The fact that we had invested in sustainable multilingual literacy prior to a major health crisis, taking local knowledge seriously and working with local experts, enabled us to rapidly disseminate critical information in a format that was trusted and could be understood (see here).