A multilingual educational programme set up by University of Helsinki researchers provides

The LILIEMA programme offers information in local languages about protection against coronavirus in Senegal.

The multilingual LILIEMA programme developed by Friederike Lüpke, Professor of African Studies, and Miriam Weidl, Postdoctoral Researcher, together with local activists has been running for three years and is now proving its usefulness in a very concrete manner.

Participants in the LILIEMA programme use the official alphabet of Senegal for multilingual literacy, aptly suited to Senegal, where numerous local languages are spoken. This is essential, for example, when learning about good practices for crisis communication. Much of the population is not proficient in the official language, French, and direct translations from French do not work for communicative purposes because most local languages of Senegal are not taught in schools, so few people can read or write them. The LILIEMA programme was developed for reading and writing multilingual repertoires so that users can read and write all the languages they need for their daily lives, and now it helps disseminate information about coronavirus and appropriate protection against it.

“The Ebola epidemic taught us that French and translations into local languages are not enough. We need to provide information in written forms that people can actually read. Additionally, we need accurate, culturally appropriate communication in the languages most appropriate for each region, ” says Friederike Lüpke.

The instructors of the LILIEMA programme actively provide information about coronavirus. The fact that only a small part of the population understands French-language information is certainly a problem, but another one, according to Lüpke, is fake news. Print information is not readily available, and despite schools being closed and events being cancelled, people continue to congregate. Under these circumstances, access to accurate information is vital.

Printed information is important in Senegal – brochures are produced in various Senegalese languages

In Senegal, LILIEMA has produced multilingual information packages about coronavirus in print format. Posters and brochures came out in March, when the virus began to spread in Senegal, and they are now being distributed in the Casamance region where LILIEMA’s focus is. When handing out the material, the Senegalese members of LILIEMA serve as models for preventing the virus from spreading: they travel alone, keep enough distance from other people, do not shake hands and do not use public transport. Through their own actions, they also emphasise the importance of good hand hygiene.

The LILIEMA programme disseminates health information in multilingual rural environments, where people do not have access to newspapers televisions, smartphones or computers. We disseminate the information in villages where the LILIEMA programme has been running, so that we can be sure that there are people who are able to read the messages. Those who have participated in LILIEMA classes can then inform others and provide guidance in the local languages. This helps to ensure that the information reaches the intended audience and is widely distributed.

“One time is not enough. We repeat the message over and over, and our instructors ensure that the guidelines are working.”

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