U.S.-Zambia Partnership Highlights Back-To-School Safety during COVID-19

November 9th, 2020 | Story

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Pencil case, books, rucksack—these are the usual checklist items as parents prepare their children to return to school. But how do parents prepare their children during a pandemic?

COVID-19 threatens children’s education and their wellbeing. Children suffer when they’re out of school: their learning is disrupted, they miss interactions with their peers, and their routines are altered, all of which can cause stress. Together, we must now turn our attention to preparing our children, their teachers, and ourselves for a return to school.

In response to the pandemic, the Zambian government closed all schools on March 20, 2020, with only examination classes permitted to return over the following months. In September, children across all grades were welcomed back into the classroom. After months of homeschooling and virtual learning, this brought both excitement and trepidation for families.

To help prepare parents and students for this transition, the U.S. Embassy, the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of General Education (MOGE), and USAID DISCOVER-Health partnered to host and live-stream a ‘back-to-school COVID-19 event’ on October 3, 2020, that attracted close to 100,000 viewers. The fun-filled event answered questions, eased anxieties, and imparted critical COVID-19 prevention information and guidelines for returning to school safely.

Held in Lusaka, the outdoor show featured art, comedy, dance, games and music, and was streamed live across the country. All 200-plus in-person attendees, mostly school children, took COVID-19 preventive measures including temperature checks, masking-up, hand-washing and sanitizing, and social distancing, modeling appropriate COVID-19 preventive behaviors to audiences across the country.

Comedian Bob Nkosha and radio personality Roxy Jones Kangwa co-hosted the event. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires David Young warmed-up the crowd of young learners with an interactive demonstration on how to wear a face mask properly, covering both the mouth and nose, and also demonstrated the don’ts. He went on to explain the importance of face masks. “Why do we wear a face mask? To protect ourselves and those we love. If you want to protect Mum and Dad, your Ba Mbuya (grandmother), all your family at home, you have to wear a mask.” Chargé Young emphasized the Zambian government’s five golden rules of prevention: “Wearing a face mask is the most important rule of the five golden rules”. The other rules include hand washing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, and seeking medical attention upon developing symptoms.

MOH Permanent Secretary for Technical Services Dr. Kennedy Malama, who also interacted with the school children, commented that “Education is the best equalizer” and explained to the audience why the government is so concerned about the virus. “COVID-19 is a new disease. Even as scientists, we don’t know everything. This is why we must be cautious—but we are delighted at the efforts made so far. The key message as you go back to school is to follow the five golden rules.”

Later, children in the audience were quizzed to see if they had been paying attention. It was perfect scores all around as they named all the COVID-19 prevention methods.

Live performances from local musicians B-Flow, Drimz, Pompi and Wezi got everyone up on their feet! The poet James Kanyanta shared a poem, ‘COVID is real’, personifying the virus itself in the first person. The crowd clicked their fingers in agreement as he spoke with passion to the young people: “I can see through your eyes that most of you don’t think I exist…but look at me I am here! So if you think like that, you are not wise men…but if you think about it people like that work to my advantage…I feed from people like that…really I’m easy to defeat…social distancing, get that restraining order…get your mask, yes be like Jim Carrey and always have your mask on!”

The event, which was preceded by an advertising campaign in local newspapers and radio stations, was streamed live on TV and on 17 online platforms, including the Zambia Ending AIDS Facebook page. The online stream had 95,728 post impressions and 26,508 video views representing Zambians from Lusaka to Ndola in the Copperbelt, Kasama in the north, and Chipata in the east.

To close the show, the chairs were moved to one side and the audience were ready to dance! Jerusalema is a popular dance routine that has gone viral on social media around the world and Zambia is no exception! Led by a local performance group, the Barefeet Theatre, parents and children hopped, stepped, and jumped to the beat. It was a day of live music, games and fun but crucially, families left feeling energized, happy and prepared for their children to return safely to school during COVID-19.  Content from the day has been re-packaged for repeat showings on MOGE TV channels, to further disseminate COVID-19 messaging to parents and learners who missed the live show.

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