Covid-19 DEF Dialogue, is a special series initiated by Digital Empowerment Foundation on Covid-19 where we connect with key individuals within our network in 600 locations across 25 states to find out how Covid-19 and the lockdown situation has impacted their area and the measures they are undertaking to tackle it. We will also be interacting with industry experts to gauge the situation and measures that can be undertaken.
Osama Manzar, Founder and Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation, spoke with—Girish, who is a digital nomad and a proactive person. He is working towards busting the myths of Coronavirus in the digitally dark and unconnected areas. He owns a Wi-Fi enabled van and has covered around 50 telecom dark areas. He has used this opportunity to spread awareness about the Covid-19 pandemic through Nammahalli Community Radio he runs.
“I am at Channenhalli village which is 60 kilometres away from Tumkur district in Karnataka and am connected with Mr. Manzar through the internet. The scenario of the people in the remote villages post lockdown is that the villagers are doing fine and going along with their daily chores—but at the same time, they are concerned about the on-going Covid-19 pandemic. They think Coronavirus will consume all of them.
The villagers were happy interacting with us and are very curious to know more about the pandemic. I along with my team of research persons had visited the village and convinced them to not panic and helped the villagers understand that by maintaining hygiene, washing hand, social distancing and bathing at least once every day will prevent the virus from harming them.
The villagers were also eager to know how the government is supporting them. Is the government supporting them by providing masks, sanitizers etc? So we further requested the villagers to not depend on the government and take care of themselves.
I also advised them to visit the nearby hospital or Asha workers if anybody from the village show symptoms of coronavirus. I was happy to know that the Aganwadi workers also visit the villagers on a regular basis and this is very important for the people in the village.
The livelihood of the villagers was affected because of the lockdown, but many are engaging in agricultural activities and cow herding.
During the initial few days of my travel in some villages, I found out that women were performing certain traditional rituals to fight against Coronavirus—and interestingly even while performing rituals, they followed PM’s instructions and adhered to social distancing.
Also, travelling to villages in a Wi-Fi enabled and digitally equipped van helped me bring out the real stories from the ground.
The villagers are unconnected and live in digitally dark areas because of which the reception of the network is poor and it gets challenging for them to get connected with the rest of the world.
The lack of Wi-Fi facilities has kept these villagers aloof in the digital world. Setting up of basic Wi-Fi helps provide hotspot within a range of 300-500 meters. I and my team also showed them how they can talk to us after they have connected their smartphones with the Wi-Fi. The research person was sitting in the van clarifying all their doubts by answering their questions.
We went live on Facebook wherever we could find at least 2G network connectivity. I had built a small bandwidth bundler with the help of 3 dongles.
This is how I along with my team get into conversation with the villagers through Wifi , and bring their voices on one platform through ‘Nammahalli Community Radio’ I run and broadcast it on several other social media platforms—to spread awareness and address misinformation around Covid-19 pandemic.
The local WiFi system also creates access to educational materials online for the children who are now home bound—and this enables them to study and continue with their education at home until schools and colleges reopen.”