“You do not go to a community and ask them ‘what are your problems?’. They will tell you what they wish for you to hear.” Dr. Paschalia said, as she opened the discussion on the 24th July 2020. On this day, the trainers were keen to impart critical skills on the AJAN network members on how to influence Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice. Specifically, coded language was introduced as the core communication strategy in a psycho-social approach -which the trainers presented as the most effective in successful community engagement.

“A code is constructed from a generative theme. It is what people are talking about with concern or worry. You use this to understand the cause of the problem. The community are able to associate what they are going through with the cause of the problem.”, explained Dominic Syuma. “A code is a tool designed to reawaken people’s thinking. They come alive to their realities and challenges”, he added.

“To achieve a deep-rooted transformation within a target community, you must understand their core needs. You let them speak and then listen to them. The view of the facilitator towards the people should be that they are capable of shaping their destiny and that they have some resources, but not viewing them as lesser”, Dr. Paschalia delved deeper. “It is useful to consider cultural wisdom. You will be surprised how rich it is”, added Dominic.

Questions as to why certain things happen, what can be done to surmount challenges and how, must be posed to participants by the facilitator to ensure effective participation. It was also unraveled, that one should allow beneficiaries to describe what they consider the root causes of a problem, and what they consider to be the possible solutions to the same. “You should only give important advice where necessary”, said Dr. Paschalia.

Therefore, it is important to create a good rapport with participants right from the start. Issues that would otherwise be taken for granted such as sitting arrangement also turned out to be key to a successful engagement.  Noteworthy, is the need to to have people sit in a way that they can see the others they are involved in the discussion with, preferably in a circle.

The next training session is scheduled for 31 July 2020 .