In addition to teaching and conducting research, universities also have the corporate social responsibility function that comes in different forms of community engagement or service. In other words, the functions of universities would not be complete without serving the communities in which they operate.
It is against this background that the University of Namibia, through its Unam Cares Project, has combined efforts with the Cardiff University Phoenix Project in a Covid-19 vaccination awareness campaign in Namibia code-named #COVIDNamVacc Project.
The multi-million dollar vaccination awareness project comes at the right time as it is set to impact positively in the fight against the pandemic in Namibia. The #COVIDNamVacc Project is a Welsh government funded development, working in close strategic and operational support of the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Correctional Service of Namibia.
On this development, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Namibia, Professor Kenneth Matengu stated, “It is a privilege for the University of Namibia to join ministries and international partners in maximising the effect of this Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Unam has provided additional support in setting up vaccination clinics for Namibians and we hope to do this all over the country.”
This follows the launch of the vaccination campaign that saw more than 200 people being vaccinated at the University of Namibia main campus on Monday last week after the VC and other members of management led in taking their vaccines on that day.
When the #COVIDNamVacc Project is in full swing, it is envisaged to save Namibians from suffering this terrible disease and to save the lives of Namibians, particularly vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 infection: for example, those with co-morbidities, the elderly, disabled people and prisoners within the correctional services.
Some members of the project are already in the field where they are reaching out to large numbers of people living in remote and disadvantaged situations, to make sure that they have a good understanding of the dangers of Covid-19, how to prevent catching it and that people there understand the need for vaccination against it. To do this, people must better understand Covid-19.
In their preparatory stages, members of the vaccination awareness project considered pertinent questions to achieve their objectives.
Explaining some of the questions they considered, Professor Judith Hall, Leader of Cardiff University Phoenix Project had this to say: “Some of these questions include: How do you get effective health messages out to people living in a very rural country with low population density? How do you get understandable messages out when languages are many, languages may not be written, and the cultural nuances of words and phrases can easily be ‘lost in translation?’ How do you engage with their leadership to enlist support for a new vaccination drive for a novel disease? How do you communicate a new type of viral respiratory disease? Covid-19 is very complex scientifically, especially to those who have not had the advantage of, perhaps, even basic science education? How do you communicate things like particle size, variants, anosmia, reproduction numbers and exponentials? These are complicated things even to fully fledged Viral Scientists and Public Health Doctors at the very best institutions. These concepts are difficult. We’ve all had to try and learn.”
But in the face of these communication challenges, communication must still happen and the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia, working with the University of Namibia and Cardiff University have developed a fully-fledged communications strategy based on local knowledge and languages, local leadership and people of influence, based on illustrations and graphic messaging.
Using these comprehensive and innovative tools they are tailoring regional trips and outreach to help citizens from all over Namibia understand better Covid and thus, the need to be vaccinated.
A children’s storybook, “My Hero is You”, has even been written and translated from English (and English Braille) into five Namibian languages to help children understand Covid-19 and how to protect themselves.
The languages are Otjiherero, Oshiwambo, Silozi, Khoekhoegowab and Rukwangali and the books will be distributed by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, as well as by the health promotion team. This team is, by definition, very broadly multi-professional, it takes a coherent, energetic team working efficiently together to pull this off.
However, this can and will be a success with everyone working together to save Namibian lives.
Commending the translators of this book, Vice Chancellor Matengu said this: “The key to success is, of course, communication, and I am particularly delighted to see Health Promotion in our local languages.
This storybook for children in five languages is a very exciting development. I am very proud of our students who did the translation into various languages. One of the reasons we’re targeting children is to empower them with facts. We want children to use the story, translating and transferring information to their parents and grandparents.”
“My Hero is You” complements the very successful Short Stories for Children Competition in Namibia and Wales. Tim Davies, Lecturer in Cardiff University and Competition Filter Judge, said: “It is wonderful to see stories translated into Namibian languages; we hope the best stories from the competition will also be translated into Namibian languages, but also into Welsh. Thus, Wales and Namibia, better appreciate each other’s cultures. We are creating an international community of shared understanding.”
This health promotion campaign will touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of Namibians, and it is envisaged to be successful in reducing suffering and saving lives. It is poised to change the attitudes of many people who are sceptical about being vaccinated.