by Chancy Mauluka, SBCC Advisor, SSDI-Communication, CCP-Malawi
I have been to a number of international conferences since 2008. The International SBCC Conference is one conference every SBCC practitioner needs. Every session was very relevant to my job and I wish I could be at many places at the same time to attend all breakout sessions. It was so inspiring to see many SBCC practitioners under one roof; everyone I talked to had a thing to offer to make my practice get one more inch or more further. The conference offered me numerous networks; and most importantly networks that will enable me elevate use of new media in behavior change. This was so relevant in the present world where we do not have to be overtaken by technology in our media mix.
The sessions were well-organized in a way that conceptually similar presentations were effectively bundled together; and that permitted rich discussions. As if to provide a recap for the day, the Keynote speeches were equally related to the topics of the day. For instance, after I presented on integration of culture, religion and health, and shared with other countries on similar interventions, the day dramatically closed with an inspiring experience from South Sudan where Darriel Harris utilized church sermons for health promotion. Darriel narrated how he used the story of baby Jesus, among others, to mobilize communities towards small step actions to ensure newborn care. Thanks to the organizers for organizing motivating speeches full of take home words of wisdom. Kumi Naidoo elevated the role of communication in conservation of the environment. “We cannot save the planet. We can only save ourselves. The planet will continue.” Naidoo. And then there was Ben Lozare who closed the conference in a grand style: “To grow up one needs to grow down.” Indeed we need to grow down through utilization of best practices and evidence in SBCC interventions. This reminded me of the call other participants made for not reinventing the wheel, a lesson that’s well recommended than practiced. If all of us go beyond projectized/institutionalized stories of success and leverage on one another, we will register quick wins and save more lives.
Unlike many international conferences I have attended, this conference opened up to participants in many ways. One unique way was allowing for a Question-and-Answer session after keynote speeches. This, like we always recommend, avoided a one-way-communication (ecumenical) approach, and was quite fitting for communication practitioners. Do as I Do!
As a way forward I will be recommending new ways of utilizing new media in our project as well as those implemented by the Ministry of Health; being an active member of various Communication Technical Working Groups at ministerial level. I will be recommending a more organic approach to integrating religion and health communication i.e. using real biblical events to identify and contextualize relevant health messages. This is something that will require design workshops while learning from best practices of other partners e.g. the South Sudan intervention. Use of games in communicating to illiterate communities is another lesson I have taken home. In future projects I will be exploring on how best to utilize indigenous games for health promotion. More importantly, I will be inviting partners to the springboard for health Communication and will actively work towards establishing a country page and making the Malawi practitioners active not only virtually through the page but also physically through in-country meetings.
The SBCC International Conference is one conference that has to stay as long as there is need for a concerted communication effort to improve health. I would not hesitate to recommend this to any communication practitioner. It is a place to be!