Blissful ignorance

Blissful ignorance

MACHACHE-FOR the past six months, Libe Tjobi, a livestock herder, has been living the normal life. When the whole world moved to adopt “a new normal” to slow the spread of Covid-19, Tjobi and almost every member of his community continued with the old – unperturbed and in blissful ignorance.

Covid-19 has been around for months now and many people globally have been forced to change their habits while adopting new behaviours such as regularly washing hands, wearing face masks and maintaining social distance to protect themselves from the virus.

But for Tjobi and almost everyone in his community of cattle herders, the only time they got to know about the dangers of coronavirus in detail was at a meeting this week. Despite campaigns by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and non-governmental organisations to “to reach everyone”, it seems cattle herders are some of those who have been left behind.

“I have been sharing cigarettes and bottles of alcohol (with friends) not knowing the dangers I was putting both my friends and I in,” says the 24-year old from Ha-Ratau.
The only information Tjobi had on Covid-19 was through hearsay before the meeting organised by Monna-Ka-Khomo or the Lesotho Herdboys Association.

“Everyone had different explanations. I was so confused that I ended up not believing its existence,” he says. “I have learnt a lot from this meeting. It was worth it and I am glad I was part of it.”

“This seems to be the new normal… I do not know how long it will last,” he says, promising to start practising precautionary measures he learnt from an environmental health professional who was part of the meeting.
The Ministry of Health and other stakeholders should involve herders in their campaigns, Tjobi says.

“We should not be left behind just because we are herd boys. We are also human beings after all,” he says.
Lekhotso Malebonyane, who was part of the meeting, says he heard of Covid-19 from church, although he is not sure how to adequately protect himself.

“I know that it exists and as an elderly person I am in more danger than the youngsters,” said the 83-year-old.
“I will try to wash my hands regularly with running water even though water is still a challenge here. I will try to do all that’s been advised to protect my family,” Malebonyane says.

He calls on the government to ramp up its communication efforts by using methods and languages understood by grassroots communities.
“This can come in very handy during this crisis,” says Malebonyane, who says he would take to knitting facemasks following the awareness meeting.
Ha-Ratau Chief, Mahlomola Theko commended the herd boys’ association for spreading the message on Covid-19 and donating face masks to the marginalised cattle herders.

“I believe they (cattle herders) will spread the message amongst themselves. They are mostly forgotten even though they take care of our villages,” he says, noting that the government has so far neglected cattle herders.
“All I see are good Samaritans assisting here,” he says. “They are easily misled as they often lack factual information, they need continuous trainings for them to grasp the facts,” he said.

Environmental Health at District Level officer ’Matšoanelo Thibathiba says Covid-19 “is very dangerous and it can affect anyone”.
“We should know that corona exists and we have confirmed cases in the country. We should protect ourselves,” she says, warning that the onset of the winter season could see cases of infection rising rapidly.

She says Covid-19 shows its signs after two to fourteen days.
“Our bodies are different hence it may show after different days from all of us,” she says.
She encouraged the cattle headers to regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water, keeping a distance of at least one metre apart, avoiding crowded places and avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
“Nature will always demand that one touches the very same thing but please try as much as possible to avoid it,” she says, encouraging the cattle herders to seek medical attention from their nearest health centres if they exhibit any signs of fever, cough and breathing difficulties.

“This will also protect two parties and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections,” Thibathiba says.
She urged them to report people coming abroad to the chief, health workers or councillor regardless of the relationship they have with those people.
“It is your responsibility to protect yourselves,” she says also urging them to abandon practices such as sharing cigarettes, bottles of beer and exchanging handshakes.

“It is for our own good,” she says.
Lesotho Herdboys Association (Monna-ka-khomo) chairman Motlalentoa Hlehlisi says the meeting was the first in a series as part of a risk communication campaign initiated by the organisation.

“We did it after realising that they were left behind. We want to protect them. We wish to reach to all the districts but due to lack of funds, we might not succeed,” he says.

Hlehlisi advises herdboys to use their balaclavas carefully.
“Don’t take advantage and commit crimes hiding behind it. Use them for their intended purposes, for your protection,” he says.

He says the organisation has been working with livestock herders from Ratau “for some time now” and described them as “attentive”.
He says the campaign was “very successful” even though they had to try to stick to 50 people as per the former Prime Minister’s call.
“There are so many herd boys here,” he says.

Ministry of Health Incident Manager, Dr Llang Maama, says the government has recruited and trained more nurses, doctors and other health personnel as well as established quarantine centres as part of a response plan.

The ministry’s risk communication department has formulated messages about Covid-19.
“Through that department we managed to formulate a few messages, some of them were printed on cars and distributed to different health facilities,” she says.

Some of the messages are being spread through media outlets such as television, radio and newspapers, most which are, however, out of reach of cattle herders.

She says getting adequate funding on time was one of the biggest challenges and some “Good Samaritans” have assisted with flyers, pamphlets, banners and billboards.
She says the ministry also empowered councillors and chiefs to go back to their communities and spread the message around.

“We learn everyday… things keep changing. At first there were no masks but now we have to teach people about the importance of wearing masks. Nothing is written on a stone, things keep changing based on the circumstances,” she says.

“Mosotho should know why they have to wash hands, wear a mask even when the police officer is not watching to avoid putting other people’s lives at risk,” says Maama, noting that it has been tough to get people to change their behaviour.

“We are not done educating the people as yet,” she says.
Development for Peace Education (DPE)’s Education Researcher Lemohang Molibeli says since the last week of March, the department “has been busy” with preparations for Covid-19 outreach activities.

He says they had discussions with artistes on March 31.
On the same day, he says artistes started their rehearsals and showcased their first performance at the Command Centre under the Ministry of Health and NECC members on April 2.

Molibeli says they trained people for community outreach at Senekane Council. In between, he says, there were radio and TV programmes where the organisation was spreading awareness to councillors.

“We empowered communities with information,” says Molibeli, adding that the department is developing digital messaging to the DPE areas for public consumption.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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