Gennike Mayers, IFRC   

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Bret which hit Trinidad and Tobago in the early hours of June 20th 2017, many areas were affected by heavy rains, flooding and landslides. With the rains, some areas reported an influx of mosquitoes. In the southern region of Penal/ Debe for example, ten days after the storm, the Regional Corporation was still carrying out damage assessments and assisting affected residents in cleaning up their homes and businesses.

Akeisha Benjamin, Zika Project Coordinator with the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross society (TTRCS) explains, “As people are cleaning up from the floods we are pushing the message to get rid of stagnant waters as quickly as possible to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. Given the fact that some people had to evacuate and go to shelters we are encouraging affected persons to clean up quickly. We are also working with the Regional Corporations to spread the message”.

The TTRCS launched its Zika outreach on April 1st 2017 as part of the Caribbean Zika Project coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC) which is being funded by the USAID programme. Their focus has primarily been on community and school’s outreach in selected areas, however in light of the passage of Bret they have had to taper their previously planned activities to address the needs arising in those areas impacted by flooding.

In the fray, TTRCS has been using social media to reach the population of internet users. For example, there is a Zika quiz on Facebook every Friday which has been attracting a lot of attention. Facebook users are invited to answer questions on the TTRCS’s Facebook page for a chance to win a prize. TTRCS also hosted an Open-House at their headquarters on World Red Cross Day May 8th 2017 so that members of the public could walk in and discover the range of services and programmes conducted by the local Red Cross society.

With the school community in mind, art and spoken word competitions on the topic of Zika were also launched to raise greater awareness. Schools actively participated in these competitions towards the end of the school term and prizes will be distributed to the winners when school resumes in September. However, before the closure of schools for the July – August vacation, the TTRCS visited a number of primary and secondary schools, including the Gloster Lodge Moravian Primary School. This school has a Red Cross group known as a “Youth Link” which has been operating for several years. The students were overjoyed to welcome the TTRCS team with their bag of games.

Ray Anthony Warner, Field Officer with the TTRCS Zika Project explains, “We are always excited to take these games to the schools because it’s a fun way to share really important information with the kids and by extension the parents. The teachers are also keen on having us because it occupies the students in an educational and recreational activity. What they learn through the games will help them make better choices at home.”

Indeed the teachers were grateful for the opportunity to welcome the Red Cross team. School teacher, Enal Mahabir, shares, “This is a great initiative by the Red Cross. After exams we are always looking for activities to engage the children in a meaningful but fun way. We try to make things interesting for them by doing field trips and taking them out of the classroom but it’s even better that the Red Cross has come to us with these educational games. It reinforces what we as teachers already know”.

Certainly the mixed batch of students from standards four and five had a lot of fun playing along. It was pouring rain on the day TTRC visited so the games had to be played indoors rather than outdoors in the courtyard; however this did not by any means dampen the children’s spirits. The games include charades where players dramatize clues on cue cards while their team mates try to guess the right words. In this case the clues are all related to the Zika virus and its symptoms. Another game is an adaptation of the well-known snakes and ladders board game but in this case players move ahead or backward at the roll of a die and depending on their answers to Zika related questions.

Zika Project Coordinator, Akeisha Benjamin explains their strategy, “We have been using the community toolkit developed by IFRC Geneva. We replicated some of the games in life-size proportions and we’ve been using this at the schools before they close for vacation. During the holidays, we will be doing door-to-door outreach and we plan to take the games to the communities for major events like the Tobago Heritage festival where there is an entire day dedicated to ‘games we used to play’ so our games will fit right into the theme”.

The IFRC Caribbean Zika Project is a region-wide project aimed at containing the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Outreach activities are specially targeted towards children as agents of change in the hope of spreading the message on Zika awareness and prevention to families and by extension, communities.