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Translating Covid-19

We took up the challenge of translating Covid-19 messaging from governments and WHO about the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the eventual return to a new normal in a language and a feeling that everyone can understand.

17Promises took up the challenge of translating Covid-19 messaging from governments and WHO about the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the eventual return to a new normal in a language and a feeling that everyone can understand.

We created a digital campaign called ‘Vanhu Wese’ (Wonke umuntu, Everyone) that runs throughout the lockdown period in Zimbabwe in three parts, from basic warnings of the coming changes and danger, to explaining why these things have to be done, and ultimately to opening people’s minds to what might life might be like after the lockdown and the virus have left the country with new rules, or ‘a new normal’.

The instructions have been the same all over the world so translating covid messaging is not complicated. Some messages have been delivered with great clarity, others less so, showing the need for a specific approach to each community. We decided early on to broadcast messages in the three official languages of Zimbabwe Shona, Ndebele and English, and to try to not give preference to any one of the languages.

Initially we used simple iconography and large headlines to grab attention, always aware of the fact that these would have to be seen on a phone most of the time and that there should be no confusion about what people were seeing. We paired them with video messages from children and young people that also highlighted the 17 promises, or SDGs. We also devised a way of reaching people who are off-grid and off-road, although that requires partnership to achieve.

Now in its third phase the campaign turns to more subtler, no less important issues; Mental health, planning, preparing. By this time messages are less stark, icons have given way to illustrations and the tone is more conversational and empathetic.

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