Eunice Simwa – A fountain of hope amidst tragedy

A fountain of hope amidst tragedy

When Eunice Simwa got the call that her aunt had died, scarcely could she imagine anything worse following so closely behind the news. So on July 6, 2020, she was present in Vihiga to give her broken, emotional sendoff to the auntie.

After the burial, she stayed two more days to condole with her parents and other members of the family. However, on the day she planned to return to her home in Bitonge village in Sirisia Sub-County, in the county of Bungoma, her father disclosed that he was not well. Thinking it was malaria, which is common in the area, she got the requisite drugs from a pharmacy. Thereafter she returned home to Bitonge, unaware that the eye of a hurricane was descending upon her.

“I had hardly stayed in Bitonge when I was informed that dad had collapsed. I rushed back to Vihiga and took him to hospital where they diagnosed him with pneumonia. We decided to transfer him to Mbale Hospital, a government facility. There they found him Covid-19 positive.”

Knowledge is power, they say. Shocked but not bowed, Eunice began to recall all the information concerning Covid-19 from Tandaza FM, a local radio station. Tandaza FM had been running programmes and disseminating information on the novel Corona virus. Under the banner ‘Tumaini Hewani’ (hope in the air), Tandaza FM disseminated accurate, up-to-date information about Covid-19. It would prove helpful in neutralising, to an extent, some of the false information that had spread about the disease.

“We particularly like to put out the Covid-19 messages in the afternoon, which is the prime time,” says Jared Mudanya, the station manager. “We add other extra mentions at night, which is our family time.” Mr Mudanya reveals that Tandaza FM covers a radius of 100 square kilometres. This gives it access to the ears of the residents of Kakamega, Vihiga, and Tranz-Nzoia, but also to those in parts of Uganda. Eunice, a resident of Bungoma, considers Tandaza a home radio station. She had previously not paid keen attention to the station.

“Tandaza FM is our major source of information, not TV or newspapers,” Eunice says. “I’m a pastor and I’m concerned for the health and welfare of my people. So I try to be informed so I can be a source of accurate information. Tandaza has been running a lot of informative programmes on Corona virus. Though the speed of spread, the deaths and the impact of Covid-19 are scary, there’s a window by which we can escape it – sanitising, distancing, masking and hand-washing. They sound doable but they are tiresome and people need constant motivation to keep it all up. After listening to Tandaza, I felt compelled to take responsibility.”

And boy, did she take responsibility! Immediately her father was diagnosed with the virus, Eunice began to self-isolate. “Even before I decided to take the test, I was already socially-distancing myself. I confined myself at home. I called the Ministry of Health officials and asked them to test me since my father had been found positive. They came home, tested and found me positive. My husband too was found with the virus. They took me to hospital.”

While Eunice was speeded off to the Isolation Centre in Webuye, her husband was allowed to self-isolate at home so the children wouldn’t be left alone. At the wards, Eunice became a symbol of hope, applying some of the scant information she had picked up from Tumaini Hewani broadcasts to encourage her co-patients.“

“I found a conviction in my heart to hold out the light of hope. There was a lot of hopelessness in those wards,” she says. There was a particular woman who had reached her end and was contemplating suicide. She had suffered great injustice including being thrown into a police cell for a crime she had not committed. Her domestic troubles had swept over her head. “It was in the police cells that she was found to be Covid-19 positive. She was done with life. From the little I had initially picked up from the radio programmes, I knew all was not lost. So I talked hope into her and the other patients. I put that information together with faith in God and told them none would die and they would all go home.”

By the time Eunice was discharged 28 days after being brought in, all the other women had been discharged. However, something had happened in-between her admission on July 26 and her release. Her phone long having gone off for lack of battery, she borrowed a phone from one of her co-patients and called home to know whether her father had been discharged from hospital. “I was informed that my father had died on the 29th, just three days after my admission. Since I was not accessible on phone, nobody could reach me with the information. It was the darkest day of my life.”

It was on her return home from hospital that she now became an avid fan of Tandaza FM’s Tumaini Hewani broadcasts. Just as well, for she would need this information to confront what awaited her at home. For word had gone round that she and her family were Covid-19 positive and were to be avoided at all costs. Eunice only got to know the gravity of the situation when she sent her children to purchase some supplies at the shop. “Neighbours stopped them on the road, threatened and sent them running back home,” says Eunice. “My children were accused of spreading the virus.” It became something of persecution. “It’s been hard for us. We can’t go to the shops to buy anything. We have money but can’t go to an M-pesa shop to deposit. We can’t sell, we can’t buy because people don’t want to see us outside our home. Even fetching water from the stream we now do at night when the rest of the village is asleep.”

Her situation prompted staff at Tandaza FM to intensify their Tumaini Hewani campaigns and emphasise that as long as one took the prescribed steps, they were unlikely to get the virus. They further called on the community to not stigmatise and ostracise former Covid-19 patients. Further, they have interviewed Eunice on air to confirm that she no longer has the virus. The Tumaini Hewani team of presenters and Station manager at Tandaza FM also visited the family, accompanied by the local administrator to take hope, in the form of shopping supplies, to the family.

The good news continued to include the fact the Eunice’s children tested negative for the novel Corona virus. She has also become an advocate of the Tumaini Hewani broadcasts.

This article is part of a series complementing the DigiRedio Social and Behaviour Change Platform powered by the Centre For Behaviour Change and Communication. The two-way COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement through radio aims to help create and sustain preventive behaviours and complement control measures against COVID-19 in Kenya. This project is implemented in 33 radio stations in 30 Counties through the Ministry of Health with support from the American People through the USAID.

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