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UBC med student takes COVID-19 health message to South Asian community

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Surging COVID-19 numbers prompt first region-specific provincial health order in B.C. – Nov 7, 2020

A UBC medical student is trying a new approach to try and get the message around COVID-19 precautions to Surrey’s South Asian population.

Sukhmeet Singh Sachal and about 100 youth volunteers have been gathering at Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in recent weeks, where they’re working to get the public health message out in a culturally effective way.

“A lot of the South Asian population that actually visits the temples are elders,” he said.

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“We already know the information about COVID that elders are more prone to getting COVID — this was a huge concern to me.”

Sachal told Global News that in August, he started to notice that many temple attendees weren’t wearing masks or physical distancing.

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The second-year student already has a degree in public health, and it occurred to him that the government’s message may need to be delivered in a culturally sensitive way to get through.

He put together a proposal for the COVID-19 Sikh Gurdwara Initiative, and was recently awarded a grant from the Clinton Foundation and the Canada Service Corps.

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“Right now we are starting off at one gurdwara. We are doing it as a pilot test to see if it actually makes a difference,” he said.

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Sachal and his volunteers are focused on three areas: masks, distancing and hand-washing.

They’re providing free masks to temple attendees, which are specially designed to fit with a turban.

“We educate the public on how to wear them, how to wash them, and how to store them,” he said.

They’re also demonstrating proper hand-washing technique.

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Coronavirus: B.C. imposes 2-week regional ban on social gatherings, indoor activities – Nov 7, 2020

The hardest habit to ingrain, he said, was physical distancing.

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“A lot of elders, they like to crowd with each other,” he said. “So what we’ve been trying to do now is create more culturally relevant information in order to stop that from happening.”

Sachal said the group had started with floor markers, but they were largely ignored.

But he said they had a breakthrough when they put the two-metre distance in cultural terms.

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“When we started educating them like, you have to stay six feet apart, that’s the same (length) as your turban, then they started understanding it,” he said.

Since starting the project, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Sachal personally. In October, his grandmother in India lost her life to the disease.

He said the tragedy has only motivated him to get the message out further.

“That is why I want to get the message out there to all the elders, all the south Asian population and the broader population and entirety of Canada,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together and we cannot solve this pandemic if we don’t work together.”

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