Braving pandemic, peer leaders turning saviours for Bhubaneswar slum dwellers

Bhubaneswar: At a time when working from home and staying at home becoming the new normal for many during this COVID-19 pandemic, 20-year-old Deepanjali Swain starts her day visiting around 30-40 households in a slum to create awareness among the community members on the spread of the Coronavirus and necessary precautions to be taken in the Capital City of Odisha.

Deepanjali, a Peer Leader, working under the Socially Smart Project of Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited (BSCL), launched in collaboration with the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), stays updated on Government guidelines regarding COVID-19 and disseminate it among the slum dwellers at Jagannath Sahi, Press Colony of Ward No – 30, where she stays, on how to prevent the spread of the deadly virus since June.

“I, along with four other peer leaders visit house to house and check temperature of people through thermal scanners, distribute face masks and tell them to maintain social distancing and practice hand hygiene to keep the coronavirus at bay,” said Deepanjali, a B. Sc final year student, who wants to become a pathologist in future.

For the time being, we can call her a ‘COVID Warrior’ for her contributions in the fight against the global pandemic by Bhubaneswar.

Similarly, Lipsa Nayak, from Niladri Vihar Rickshaw Colony (B), a community leader and works as a field coordinator of the Socially Smart Project, is spearheading the Information, Education and Communication activities in around 20 slums in the city on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

As a filed coordinator, she monitors around 100 peer leaders and also personally visits various slums such as Harekrushna Nagar, Panda Park, Haladipadia, Science Park, Jagannath Basti, Laxminarayan Basti, Akhandalamani Basti, Harijana Basti, among others to help people in knowing the Do’s and Don’ts and guidelines to be followed to protect themselves from the infection of the coronavirus.

Sharing her experience, Lipsa says initially she and her teams faced difficulties in convincing the people not to congregate at one place and benefits of social distancing as most of them are illiterate and daily labourers having no knowledge about the pandemic. “After conducting daily and continuous awareness activities in different slums, people have become conscious and aware about the pitfalls of the pandemic. Now, people from the slums having any difficulties contact us and we reach out to them immediately with solutions,” she explained.

At present, as many as 120 Peer Leaders are carrying out awareness activities as COVID Sachetaks at 100 slums in Bhubaneswar. The Peer Leaders are going house to house to make people aware of basic hand hygiene, wearing masks, social distancing, putting up quarantine stickers, downloading COVID Sachetaks and symptoms etc.

The BMC has already conducted two-day training programme for the Peer Leaders with the help of doctors and healthcare professionals to make them understand the pandemic in a better way before they visit slums to create awareness. Besides, training programmes, workshops and orientations are being conducted time to time to enhance their knowledge.

There are four field coordinators for the entire 100 slums who are overseeing and monitoring the works of all Peer Leaders for smooth management of the task.

Commissioner, BMC, Shri Prem Chandra Chaudhary has visited Telugu Basti in Saheed Nagar and discussed with Peer Leaders about the awareness programme being conducted at slums. The Commissioner also praised the Peer Leaders for their contributions and exemplary work at community level in helping the vulnerable people during this challenging time.

So far, 42 Covid Sachetaks groups have been formed by these trained Peer Leaders and 19096 people were given orientation. These groups have conducted 5063 house-to-house surveys, checked temperature of 3097 people through thermal scanner.

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