Uzochukwuamaka Olukoya writes about how education and storytelling are a powerful tool to dispel myths and spread information to empower and connect communities.
My grandmother told me a story: A young man had mental health issues and started ‘acting funny’. His family was advised to take him to a bee farm and expose him to the swarm of bees. They paid a sum to the beekeeper who exposed this young man to the bees. The young man was stung so much, he was cured of his madness. As I grew up, I heard of so many myths surrounding curative measures for diseases. Another was that for one to be cured of AIDS, one had to have intercourse with a virgin (don’t ask me, I don’t know).
It’s amazing how myths can be so interwoven into our belief systems that it becomes a herculean task to dispel them before attending to the real issues. In Nigeria, there are several instances where myths have become so entrenched in our value system that it becomes difficult to disprove them. Myths have played an influential role in the way circumstances are seen and addressed. But over time, this culture of ignorance is more dangerous in matters of health and life.
So it is critical to dispel myths concerning COVID-19. Taiwo Shonuga is a volunteer for a public awareness campaign that took place in Lagos and Nassarawa states in Nigeria. She was shocked to find that the students didn’t believe that COVID-19 existed, and how adamant they were in their disbelief.
Those who were aware of the virus had many misconceptions and questions that showed how little they knew about it. Some learners thought that Covid-19 is transmitted only in cold climates; others believed that drinking alcohol prevented one from contracting the virus. It was commonly believed that the virus only affects older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions and since the majority of them were young and healthy, they had practically nothing to worry about. It was then that Taiwo realized that the only way to educate them was through continual awareness about the effect that COVID-19 has had on the world.
The first point of call was to dispel the culture of ignorance and deconstruct the dangerous pyramid of myths built around the disease. Taiwo and a number of other volunteers enlightened people about the use of personal protective equipment, reasoning that while the use of personal protective equipment is important, it is equally important to know why and how to use them. This is what makes knowledge important. By educating the learners, more light was shed on why and how they can protect themselves.
The interaction and camaraderie forged a valuable connection, and emphasised and the message of hope, enlightenment and resilience for a healthier and better tomorrow was spread to children, adults and their communities.