Fellowship Alumni

Obed Mambwe and Peter Garang Ngor Ayok

Increasing access to information about COVID-19

2019 Fellow Obed Mambwe created a video about COVID-19 in Zambian Sign Language.

As citizens face a daily flood of information about the coronavirus pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for people to determine which information is correct. It is even more challenging for individuals in marginalized communities, as much of the information fails to accommodate various accessibility needs.

Fellowship Alumni across the continent are committed to sharing important information with their communities, spreading awareness on ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect themselves and their families. Two Fellowship Alumni – Obed Mambwe and Peter Garang Ngor Ayok – are going above and beyond to ensure this information is accessible for all.

Bridging the gap between the hearing and deaf communities

As a board member of the Association of Sign Interpreters of Zambia (ASLIZ), 2019 Alumnus Obed Mambwe trains volunteers to be professional sign language interpreters with the mission of breaking the communication barrier for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Obed Mambwe at his Leadership in Public Management Institute at Boise State University in 2019.

During the Ebola crisis in 2014, Obed worked with the Ministry of Health to produce public service announcements in Zambian Sign Language (ZSL) to be shown on TV stations nationwide. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, Obed understood the significance of making sure information about the virus was also shared in ZSL.

Obed and ASLIZ have shared numerous ZSL videos communicating important information about COVID-19. Additionally, ASLIZ members volunteer to interpret for citizens at hospitals and clinics.

“This has had a huge impact on the deaf community, as they are not left behind on the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see deaf people staying home, avoiding handshakes, and using hand sanitizers in public places.”

Obed Mambwe, 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, Zambia

While in the United States for his Fellowship, Obed connected with American interpreters who continue to share resources with him. One colleague has been sharing how press briefings are interpreted into American Sign Language (ASL), and Obed is working to implement similar practices in Zambia.

Obed’s experience in the United States has opened up numerous opportunities for him in Zambia. He says, “Because of being a Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni, different institutions in Zambia call me to work with them on their community activities in order to reach out to the Deaf.” His Fellowship led to work with the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority and the Zambian U.S. Embassy Alumni Association, both of whom have received ZSL videos about COVID-19 from Obed to share with their networks.

Speaking to citizens in their own language

Peter Garang Ngor Ayok with Anne Wilkomm, academic director of the Mandela Washington Fellowhip’s Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute at Drexel University.

With a national literacy rate of just below 30%, 2019 Alumnus Peter Garang Ngor Ayok knew it would be a challenge to keep South Sudan’s various ethnic groups informed about the COVID-19 pandemic. Information isn’t often produced in the country’s dozens of native dialects, and, if it is, many still struggle to read and comprehend it.

One day, Peter recorded a video in his own Dinka dialect, sharing key messages about COVID-19. When he shared the video on Facebook, he challenged viewers to record videos in their dialect, saying “Prevention begins with you and me. It is our collective responsibility to prevent and control COVID-19.”

The challenge was accepted by youth across the country, and quickly spread nationwide with amplification from the U.S. Embassy. To formalize these efforts, Peter started “The 64 Indigenous COVID-19 Ambassadors,” which draws volunteers from each of South Sudan’s 64 ethnic groups to translate Ministry of Health materials into their own languages and record videos to share with their communities. So far, videos have been recorded in 11 languages and dialects, and Peter is hard at work to recruit new Ambassadors to continue spreading the message.

As a clinician and public health professional, this campaign fits Peter’s mission as a healthcare worker. He says, “It is my responsibility to keep my communities informed so that they can make the right choices.”

Like Obed, Peter is working to ensure that this information reaches individuals with disabilities as well, including recruiting a sign language interpreter as a Deaf Community Ambassador and creating videos in sign language.

Promoting healthy communities through servant leadership

As Obed and Peter apply lessons they learned during their Fellowship experiences to their work back home, both stress the importance of servant leadership.

Obed says, “The number one thing that my Fellowship taught me is having a heart for volunteerism, putting other people’s needs ahead of mine.”

Both hope to continue to support and inform marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Peter says, “The Fellowship has influenced my activities in a way that I put the communities first, working to inspire many who feel discouraged, and, above all, the Fellowship has given me the heart of being a real servant leader, working to serve others.”

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting Fellowship Alumni who are working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their countries. 

Written by Abbie Wade.

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