Young refugees in South Sudan raise awareness of COVID-19 through song

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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world like no other crisis in recent history. With funds from Member States and other organizations as well as hundreds of thousands of individuals, who have contributed through the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, WHO is tackling the pandemic on nine dedicated fronts. But we’re not alone. In this series, we explore how our longstanding partner, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is contributing to the fight against the disease. 

The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund supports the world’s most vulnerable during the pandemic through partners like WHO and the UN Refugee Agency. In one South Sudan
refugee camp, youths compose songs to raise awareness about COVID-19 prevention.

The pulsating sound of drumbeats pierces the air in Doro refugee camp, located in northeastern South Sudan. Women, men, and children dance in the Jamhuri primary school, in sync with the rhythm.

As visitors enter the gate, they are serenaded with a song: “We, we, we are all — we are all happy today. Our visitors, we invite — we invite you to share with us.”

Youth committee in Doro refugee camp, South Sudan raise COVID-19 awareness through songs. ©UNHCR/Mary-Sanyu Osire

Volunteers direct the guests to hand-washing stations. A large banner with information on COVID-19 hangs in full view. As they line up, each person is instructed to stand in the middle of circles marked on the ground, drawn one meter apart per WHO guidance
at the start of the pandemic.

Once they’ve finished washing their hands, the guests are directed to chairs, also spread one meter apart. There are mats, too — also spaced out with the same distance.

When all the chairs and mats are full, the show kicks off.

Bonga- A Song About COVID-19 preventer from United Nations Foundation.

With a harp resting against his chest, 30-year-old Yahya sways from side to side as he leads a group of youths singing in Jumjum, one of the local dialects. The first song is titled “Bonga,” written in honour of the Bonga mountain in the Blue
Nile — the region in Sudan that the refugees call home. The refugees perceive Bonga to be indestructible.

“We are like Bonga. But if we do not shelter ourselves from coronavirus, it will claim many lives. Coronavirus is like a black cloud and heavy rain,” the group sings. “It will not spare anyone without shelter. We must be careful. We
must protect ourselves from this disease by avoiding handshaking and maintaining physical distancing.”

The songs are part of a community mobilization session organized by the youth committee, which is composed of representatives from the different tribes living in the camp.

As of March of this year, there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 at the camp, but South Sudan has seen a rapid increase in the number of people who have contracted the virus in recent months, underscoring the need for continued vigiliance, and sustained prevention efforts.

“Many humanitarian organizations talked to us about the new coronavirus. When we understood the gravity of the situation, we sat down as the youth committee and decided to start this campaign. As the youth, we have a role to play in bringing the
community together and mobilizing them,” said 25-year-old Thomas, chairperson of the youth committee.

He adds: “We sing in local languages because some of our people do not understand English or Arabic. Songs attract people, and when they listen to what we are saying, they realize it has a deeper meaning.”

So far, the group has composed eight songs in local dialects spoken across the sprawling Doro camp, which hosts more than 63 000 people representing about three dozen tribes. As they move from one location to another, the musicians change their language
to match what is spoken.

“When we are done reaching out to refugees, we will start sensitizing the host community. We are one with them. We play sports together and shop at the same places,” said Thomas.

In South Sudan, where the COVID-19 outbreak represents yet another challenge that risks overshadowing the preexisting humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable people, the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund contribution is crucial. Thanks to this funding, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) activities in response to the current situation are strengthened, including health assistance in clinics and hospitals in different refugee hosting areas of the country, which the host community can also access.

This piece was provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and has been edited, updated and published with permission and was also published by the United Nations Foundation. This piece was provided by UNHCR’s Mary-Sanyu Osire and has been edited and published with permission.

In June 2020, at the direction of the World Health Organization, UNHCR received $10 million from the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund — created by the United Nations Foundation, in partnership with the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation — to support its lifesaving work to combat the pandemic in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.

YOU CAN HELP

Every action counts in the fight against COVID-19. By supporting the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, you can help continued efforts to fight the coronavirus and protect the lives of refugees around
the world. The Fund is the fastest and most effective way for individuals, companies, and organizations to support the work of the World Health Organization and its partners.

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