My Friends and I Started a Campaign to Communicate Facts on the Pandemic. Here’s What I Learned.
The early days of the pandemic created a vacuum for reliable information. When the WHO and CDC started rolling out guidelines, local public health authorities had the arduous task of playing catch-up. The latest, medically accurate information often wasn’t reaching the most vulnerable populations around the world—including in Bangladesh where I’ve spent the better half of my life.
At this time, my friends and I came together with the idea of translating and conveying validated information about the pandemic to our families back in Bangladesh. We soon realized we needed to be creative and strategic in our communications plans—and that by doing so we could reach more than just our loved ones. We launched #BacharLorai, which over the last two years has grown to include a passionate group of individuals from Bangladesh and abroad working in partnership with grassroots organizations on communications campaigns and humanitarian efforts.
Our initial goal was to create content in the native language Bangla so that it could reach beyond the urban population—communities with the biggest gap in access to information about COVID risks. We developed a PSA campaign in partnership with a local media outlet to inform the public of about the virus and how to take precautions against it. It was difficult at the time to film with real actors, so we chose to use animation which was not only cost-effective but allowed us to portray culturally representative characters. The videos spread on Facebook, YouTube and most of all on WhatsApp. We also shared it with community leaders and NGOs who helped give the PSAs an extra push.
Our next campaign aimed to build support for frontline workers. But how do we get people to pay attention? We needed an emotional push with the power of celebrity. One inspiration was a campaign in Vietnam that promoted handwashing on Tiktok using the star power of a famous dance group. Cricket is the most popular sport in Bangladesh and when revered athletes speak up the public listens. Our video showed the ex-captains of the Bangladesh National Cricket team saluting the frontline workers. The video garnered so much attention that some of their teammates started posting photos of themselves saluting on their socials.
The next campaign took on an alarming rise in sexual assault and rapes in the country during the lockdown. This time we took a different approach: instead of a video, we reached out women and girls directly with a bit of incentive. Our package included a food ration and a health safety kit along with leaflets distributed by a local NGO called FEM to inform them about the laws in place to protect them and the steps they should take if they fall victims to gender-based violence. This was communication through an interpersonal approach.
I am currently studying health communication at Columbia. With support from faculty, I am producing and editing a podcast with my friend Sarah Wu and other Mailman classmates called “People of Public Health.” Our goal is to uplift voices from the Mailman community and highlight their inspirations to create a just world for all. My work with #BacharLorai taught me the power of mobilizing community for tangible impact. For any communication campaign to be effective, whether it be inside Mailman or beyond, engaging the community becomes as important as the content itself.
Tahmid Hasib Khan is a 2022 MPH candidate in the Epidemiology department with a certificate in Health Communication. He received his B.S.c in Global Health from the University of Toronto, Canada. He currently works as a Senior Medical Associate at Medical Dynamics, a strategic communication firm and as a research assistant at the department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.