By Sueann Wickham
With South Rupununi recently becoming a COVID-19 hotspot a language barrier has been hampering COVID awareness in Wapichan communities. Additionally, the lack of proper communication technology has been making COVID awareness in Rupununi areas significantly challenging.
The Wapichan people have recently been calling for a push in efforts to effectively communicate information on preventing the spread of the virus in their communities. Just recently the SRDC was forced to put 21 indigenous villages in South Rupununi on lockdown. The decision came after five cases were confirmed from three villages. South Rupununi currently has over 17 confirmed cases and health officials have been complaining of the hardships in maintaining them as well as conducting contact tracing.
Kid James, a project coordinator attached to the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), informed this publication that the Wapichan residents have been raising their concerns about the current pandemic and are extremely worried about maintaining safety in their villages. James explained that there are usually broadcasts and plastering of guidelines around Rupununi, however they do not cater to Wapichan speakers since they are published in English and most of these people are not bilingual.
According to Jean La Rose, Director of the Amerindian People’s Association (APA), there have been numerous donations of posters with COVID-19 guidelines and regulations within Rupununi by the organization but these are printed in English as well.
James indicated that two radio stations are being used to spread COVID awareness within Rupununi, Radio Lethem, and Radio Aishalton. He stated that while the initiative that was started by the government gives broadcasts on the ongoing pandemic, the broadcasts only caters to English speakers. He related that there is only one broadcaster who is fluent in the Wapichan language, however her efforts can only go so far.
The communities are calling for Wapichan-speaking personnel to be sent to properly educate them as they do not want to remain uninformed.
James mentioned that the SRDC has since been making efforts to assist the Wapichan communities with adequate communication. He highlighted however that those efforts to spread COVID-19 awareness in South Rupununi, there is the challenge of the lack of radios within households. According to James, only thirty percent of the residents in Rupununi have radios. He added that even the ones that do have, often run out of batteries and find difficulty sourcing new ones.
Also, although COVID advisories directed to residents of South Rupununi are being published online, the communities have little to no internet access to see them. These advisories included demands for the halt in hosting parties, weddings, and other social gatherings. The SRDC has pleaded with the government on several occasions to pay more attention to COVID-19 prevention measures within the area as they fear the situation can potentially get out of control.
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