September 03, 2020
It seems that covid -19 slapped the face of the Bahamian society so hard that heads are spinning and the ship looks like it may be on the verge of going under. However, anybody who has worked for any significant period of time in the human services arena in the Bahamas knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is tremendous power, dormant within even the most disadvantaged of our people.
They have pulled themselves through draw-dropping circumstances. Some continue to fight with ‘last nerve’ provocations on a daily bases, for years on end. Provocations and vexations that would overwhelm the more newly covid-traumatized among us. Some of these everyday heroes are used to opening the cupboard and finding it empty but their families have not yet starved to death.
They are regularly unemployed but always finding something to do. Their lives are far from ideal, dressed up and loaded with bills, yet smiling and walking confidently in borrowed hair and shirts. They have developed their own brand of disaster management. By any stretch of the imagination, these persons were covid-19 ready a long time ago.
Yet in the middle of readiness, media images of so many unmasked faces, poor social distancing and panicked responses could be unnerving if not infuriating until we remember that these are not intellectually challenged persons. As mentioned, their life experiences have gifted them with a degree of acute hardness. As warriors in everyday battles, why have they not joined this war against the covid-19 enemy? Is this rebellion or ignorance or a signal of communication failure?
Has there been a failure to reach the hearts and minds of an otherwise militant constituency? They have survived their personal pandemics by demonstrating what can be called the 3 Cs of a successful disaster management attitude. C1, Commitment to Fight:
Any problem that steps to me and seeks to wipe me out will be gripped with an iron fist. They are not going to sit idly by and pretend to be invisible. These are less likely to not stand in a line for help if they perceive that standing in line as a soft response not likely to get them what they need in a game where they understand that the playing field is not level and hustle is the only way in. C2: Control:
Once they grip that problem, they will not let go until they have dominated something in that situation. Standing six feet away with a mask on, may not sound like a good fighting strategy to them. After all, the action that has worked for them is to walk up to the perpetrator, grip it and execute a body slam. Stay home and away from people may not resonate as a real fighting strategy to them. C3 Challenge: A good fight is relished. ‘Go hard or go home’.
The harder it comes the harder it must fall. So if the only requirement is to ‘Build your immune system and wash your hands, really? That problem must not be that serious.
Where is the challenge?
Could it be that what is needed is a stronger, protective-self message communicated in a fashion that makes sense within their contextual limitations? Intervention should allow them control of their response strategies, ignite their survival instincts while helping them to manage the potentially destructive emotions brought on by the frustrations and obstacles of the pandemic.
The fact that covid 19 is naked to the invisible eye and hurts you long after contact makes it an even more difficult for it to be taken seriously. Given this the rallying call must be distinct. Some in this group will only rally up when the call comes from a familiar face on a megaphone -topped car that is accompanied by a party truck with mile high speakers driving through the streets of the community shouting in rally style. Then the battle call will be taken seriously.
The party truck is too dangerous a draw at this time. Person to person, face to face (with masks), direct contact by physical distancing, trained, community credentialed, generals is a war strategy they know.
Trained community members from within neighbourhoods can demonstrate and explain the skills, as they do their street and community help programmes persons.
Someone who they can ask questions to in the comfort of the street corners. Media messages lack this access. Motivational messages should accompany the food parcel give-aways.
The messages can be more direct and demonstrate how covid is a sly and slick enemy hiding behind a veil of invisibility that they can be outsmarted by their strategies (challenge). Only in committing to the fight will they outsmart (control) the situation.
The message must trigger the selfprotecting (survival instinct) and family-tribal-gang protection (social instinct) and see how covid-safety measures directly impacts them whether they personally become infected or not. The cry for solidarity will ring stronger and recruitment into the citizen fight against covid will begin in earnest when the war cry is brought to the community doorstep.
These are some of the same community penetration and saturation techniques that were used in fighting the war against HIV-AIDS. Intervention managers could remind the citizen army that:
1. Pandemic means shared trauma, the leadership and those being served are all traumatized right along with you. Law enforcement officers, social service personnel, school personnel all are going through the same trauma. Manage the expectations you have for yourself and for those who you meet. Expect that somebody you meet may not be interested in healthy behaviour masking, distancing, cleansing. Some folks may just be tired. You may feel threatened by their rule breaking behaviour. Some even laugh at you and call you scary and weak or question your faith.
2. When confronted with someone else’s unhealthy behaviour, do not take it personally and respond with anger, insults. If you feel you are going to overreact and say and do the wrong thing leave it alone and let someone else engage the offender in a calm way.
3.When you become tired of masking, distancing and cleaning, remember the world is in this struggle with you. This will encourage you to avoid unreasonable blame gaming and creating a victimhood for yourself that may not be helpful. Keep the focus on you. Your healthy behaviour and personal war strategy is what you have control over. 4. Some days you may wake up naturally angry at the behaviour of others, the economic crises, the injustice and uncertainty of it all. Do not allow others to exploit your anger for their own agenda. Channel your anger into self- help activities that make your fighting strategy stronger. Do something constructive with the rage. There are some people determined to spread their anger without finding ways to resolve it. Do not allow them to throw fire on your open gas tank.
5. It is important to recommit to the war every day. Each morning make an expressed intent to care for yourself and not be fooled by the sly and changing behaviour of covid. You didn’t come this far because you were weak and naïve. Your fighting instincts, common sense and ability to hold on through the darkest night is what brought you and your family through to this point. Make your actions deliberate, your engagements intentional as you accept that you are not powerless and join the efforts of this communal slap back
Dr. Valerie Knowles