Have you ever played a game and learnt something? I’m taking the jump and assuming a yes. For quite a few of us, our initial school days went in playing games and learning something through it. Wonder why our education system changes that as we grow up. From learning that is entirely fun to learning that completely removes that aspect, is a strange turn of events. However, that is a discussion for some other time. For now I would like to stress over the possibility and importance of making awareness fun. Have you ever thought of a simple snakes and ladders game to help you learn something or maybe change your beliefs even marginally?
For over two years now, the COVID pandemic has disrupted lives all across the world. When the vaccination was developed, there was relief for a few but largely, people were immensely scared – what would happen as a result of the vaccination? Everyone was initially unsure of it. There were many stereotypes and assumptions on the possible side-effects of the vaccination and also the effectiveness of it. At Innovators In Health (IIH) we decided to tackle this.
We wanted to develop something that would raise awareness regarding the vaccination, remove the fear in the minds of the people and as a result, increase immunization against this virus. Along with the vaccination drive started by the government, my team at IIH decided to prepare a gameplay that would easily identify the areas of work and tackle them as well.
Our first step was to identify the actual aim of this game. As repeatedly realized, our communities were scared to take the vaccination because they feared possible side-effects. The fear for them was not the virus but rather what was being told to them would protect them from that virus. Similarly, it was not so much the vaccine or the providers but more in terms of how the vaccine can or rather in quite a few situations, negatively impacted some family member/friend. Our aim was to tackle that fear.
We interacted with our communities to understand the myths and the origin of those myths. It was important to gauge the actual issue. Our panchayat coordinators along with the ASHA workers documented a few popular myths and positive statements that would answers those myths.
The idea of a game came along because it invites more people and also makes the entire process quite exciting. However, the main aim was awareness. Hence, it needed to be simple so that the focus doesn’t get deviated. We settled for a simple snakes and ladders format – something that has been played by all in some form or the other. It was easy to integrate information in this game.
The snakes housed all the myths through which any player would come down and the ladders were identified with the positive statements through which our players would go up. The unique aspect of this game is the information being provided – the banner, the dice are just the extra charm. After numerous alterations and many trials by our team, it was ready to be launched.
This entire process of designing it was really exciting and informative. From the initial interactions itself, I could understand where the issue was stemming from. I learnt that any issue needs proper understanding and comprehension before a solution is thought upon. We needed to understand the fear, accept that and only then attempt to counsel our communities on any possible solutions.
We decided to implement this game through the youngsters in each of our intervention panchayats. We trained them on the various aspects of the game and then it was theirs to use and implement. Interacting with these young men and women – over 120 of them, was inspirational in itself. Most of them were either studying or looking for an opportunity to contribute in their household but all of them wanted to help their community in some way or the other. Their motivation to be a part of this awareness drive was essentially to protect their loved ones in their panchayat against this deadly virus.
I remember witnessing a discussion on pregnant and lactating mothers getting the vaccine after consultation with their doctor. One of the information points on the banner raises awareness specifically on this because we realized that people feared pregnant or new mothers taking the vaccine. During the discussion, one participant highlighted how, recently, someone from her family had given birth. Within a weak she got the vaccine and as a result, she needed to be rushed into emergency. There was huge commotion and the situation needed to be handled with extreme sensitivity. The general understanding was that the health of the woman had deteriorated as a result of the vaccine.
I stepped in and stopped the game at that point; slowly and steadily asked the participant to explain the situation in more detail and enumerate any possible under-lying issues. After a while it was revealed that the mother was anaemic and was having a difficult pregnancy due to extremely low levels of blood within her system. When she took the vaccination, her already weak body reacted negatively.
I was able to put this point across and the family understood what the issue was – a doctor needed to be consulted before the new mother had taken the vaccination. It is through this discussion that I realized that the aim was not simply to break the stereotypes or make someone aware of certain notions. Rather, it is to start a conversation around vaccine and the issues that are bothering our communities and to then be able to address that in a significant manner.
More than the information, it is the conversations that come up and the safe space it develops for people around, to put their fears and opinions in front of everyone. Another realization was that the awareness drives often becomes formal and therefore, people are usually hesitant to respond; however a game removes those boundaries.
While only five participants can actively play in a single round, the game in itself is able to gather a crowd which is remarkable to see. It is that entire group of people who are either fearful themselves of vaccines or will actively help remove the fear within someone they know.
For me, every round that I have facilitated or simply been a part of, has resulted in many learnings. From being my first project to now becoming something I am supremely passionate about has been a fun ride. It makes me happy to associate a game that I used to personally enjoy as a child, now become a tool for awareness generation and more importantly a method to create a safe space for people to be able to express themselves.