When the entire world seemed to come to a standstill during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Raquel Kasham Daniel and her friends started distributing relief items to a camp for displaced people in Abuja. Most of the people at the camp had been displaced by Boko Haram and now they faced a new danger.
“I met children who knew little or nothing about COVID-19, from the way they were acting I knew if one person gets infected, this camp will be history,” Daniel recalled.
“After the visit at the camp, I couldn’t sleep. The memories kept playing back and I knew I had to help the kids. A few days after, I wrote a children’s book – There Is a New Virus in Town.”
Daniel, an educator and social entrepreneur, wrote the book for children aged 6-13 years old. Over 35 pages, it explains how the virus is spread, how germs work, as well as concepts like quarantine and social distancing. It explains why schools were closed and how staying at home makes things safer. It lists the symptoms of the disease and emphasises the importance of washing hands, not touching the face, and maintaining a safe distance from others.
A very important theme from the book is that “we need to be clean, be safe and be kind to everyone”.
The World Bank has said during the COVID-19 crisis that there are about 10 million out-of-school children who need intervention. One form of intervention is to ensure they have access to information.
“I know I can’t reach all the vulnerable children, so I began by targeting 100 children, look where it has taken us – to over 13,000 copies,” Daniel explained.
Daniel, founder of Beyond the Classroom is currently in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation. For every book distributed, the recipient receives a free COVID-19 safety pack, containing face-masks and hand sanitisers.
Like other countries in the region, Nigeria has some students who can afford to school online, while others lack the necessary resources. Since they don’t have access to social media and television, those who are essentially “locked out” of the school system barely understand the basics of the COVID-19 response. Daniel’s book aims to change that.
Its relevance has been proven by how quickly copies have been snapped up.
“I have distributed more than 13,000 copies to children in Nigeria,” Daniel explained, referring to an initial print run in the Hausa language.
This book uses an innovative “pay it forward” business model to encourage buyers of the book to sponsor the printing of further editions, which are then donated to non-profits and schools, for free. The story is now going bigger; Daniel is translating the book into Swahili, French and Hindi.
“The response I have received for the book in the last one year has been so much better than I anticipated and (I’m) now looking for ways to make the book available in other communities,” Daniel explained.
“After I am done translating the books, then I will turn it into an App. With games on germs, and keeping clean, for children.”
In her visit to the camp, Daniel also discovered the need to teach girls about their personal hygiene and puberty. So she has written another book, called “Flow”, as a guide for young girls.
In the process, Daniel has come to be regarded as something of a local COVID-19 hero. If she can continue to stand up for children in this way, she is set to become a hero to children across the continent.