Meet Maryan. Maryan is a member of the Camp Management Committee in a camp in Baidoa. The site is for internally displaced people in Somalia. Maryan informs and combats disinformation about COVID-19. Together with the help of Hassan.

Somalia - Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, IOM teams joined the Federal Government of Somalia’s COVID-19 response and scaled up efforts to assist migrants and displaced people across the country. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, rumours and harmful narratives spread faster than the virus in some of the sites across the country.

COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat for thousands of vulnerable communities in Somalia. Especially for the estimated 2.9 million internally displaced persons living in vulnerable conditions across the country. Fleeing natural hazards and conflict, in Somalia, most internally displaced people live in crowded settlements located in the outskirts of major cities. There they face a lack of clean water, health services and accurate information.

Maryan is one of the people working hard to spread information about the pandemic. Correct information. Some community members thought they were immune to the disease due to their religious beliefs. Others firmly believed ginger, pepper, or chilli would save them from getting infected.

“Most of the community members did not take it [COVID-19] very seriously.” -Maryan.

As the pandemic developed and the number of persons dying in the country increased, a new challenge knocked on the door: stigmatization. People were afraid to visit health centres due to fear of being socially shunned if testing positive. People stopped wearing a mask to avoid others thinking they had the virus.

To combat such rumours and misinformation, Camp Management Committee Teams conducted regular awareness-raising sessions across IOM’s 14 information centres in Baidoa, Dollow and Kismayo. The Teams directly reached over 100,000 internal displaced people living in informal sites between January 2020 and December 2021. Ensuring access to reliable information is key to overcoming stigma. It is key to prevent the spread of the virus.

“During the awareness sessions, religious leaders were asked many questions regarding misinformation. They helped to make clear to all participants that the idea on COVID-19 only being contracted by those who rebel against God is untrue.” -Maryan

The information sessions initially targeted influential members of the community, such as religious leaders, members of the Women’s group and Camp Management Committees, to lead in spreading the message further. However, all interested community members were invited to attend the sessions as the pandemic progressed.

These influential groups played a key role to prevent the spread of the virus in sites for internally displaced people. They dispelled myths and rumours across their communities.

“These types of discussions changed the way the community initially viewed the pandemic.” -Maryan

The sessions also allowed the participants to discuss various topics concerning COVID-19. They could also ask questions on behalf of the community. Maryan did not work alone. Hassan, a member of the Camp Management Committee in a displacement site in Baidoa, highlighted the importance of the sessions. He mentioned the importance to foster community feelings amid the COVID-19 emergency.

“The awareness sessions have allowed us to interact with different people holding different opinions. We get a chance to come together to discuss issues affecting our lives as a community and plan, organize, and agree on ways to solve them by considering the different views of the participants.” -Hassan

The participants also receive updates concerning the COVID-19 situation in Somalia. This made sure they were up to date about the rollout of vaccines and other critical actions taken by the government to address the problem. During the pandemic’s early stages, these sessions focused on COVID-19 prevention, such as practising physical distancing, avoiding gatherings, rumour prevention, handwashing techniques, and mask use demonstrations.

"These sessions are vital for the local community. We get to ask questions, discuss, and learn from each other. They help to remove some of the stress of the pandemic and make sure that we are fighting it together as one community.” -Fatima, a Women’s Group member in Baidoa, Somalia.

Nearly two years since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Somalia, the sessions have evolved to match the new normality. They now include several critical discussions, such as: “how can we safely continue to pray in the local mosque or enjoy traditional gatherings like weddings and funerals?” “how can we ensure that youth continue to take COVID-19 seriously?” and “how can we contribute to making sure the people at the local markets observe the preventive measures of COVID-19 in their activities?”

IOM receives funding from the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) for “Strengthening IOM's COVID-19 Life-Saving Response in Humanitarian Settings” in several countries around the world as part of IOM’s Strategic Response and Recovery Plan for COVID-19 (SRRP). We would like to tell the stories of some of the people who benefited from this support.

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