UBC student breaking language barriers to educate seniors about COVID-19


SURREY (NEWS 1130) — As cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket in the Fraser Health Region, one UBC medical student is breaking cultural and language barriers to better educate seniors about the virus.

Sukhmeet Sachal tells NEWS 1130 he started the COVID-19 Sikh Gurdwara Initiative when he noticed seniors at his local temple didn’t seem to know much about COVID-19.

He says one reason why seniors were out of the loop was that there is a lack of resources offered in different languages – like Punjabi or Hindi, adding he and his team of volunteers hope to change that.

“I think Dr. Bonnie Henry in what she’s providing in terms of all the briefings in English, are great. But people who don’t speak English might have trouble listening to that and I know especially in the Punjabi community a lot of our elders don’t really know English and so it’s hard for them to even grasp what is happening. And this is where I think we come in.”

RELATED: B.C. South Asian community hit harder by COVID-19: top doctor

With the help of grant money from the Clinton Foundation and Canada Service Corps, Sachal and his team of volunteers flock to temples each weekend, educating attendees on the importance of handwashing, social distancing and wearing face masks.

He says they’re also making information culturally relevant.

“One day when I was tying my turban. I had a eureka moment in a way where I realized that my turban is actually six feet long. Exactly,” he said.

“So I actually ended up creating an infographic around this. So as soon as you step into the gurdwara, now the first thing you see is a huge cardboard cutout. It’s six feet wide, and it has a turban on it, and two people holding it on each end.”

Sachal adds, while young people in the province have received criticism for attending parties across B.C. he says there are also many who are working hard to help as much as they can.

“At the opposite end of the spectrum I have 100 people on my team who are South Asian youth who are doing amazing work in the community, and I think they need to be celebrated for what they’re doing. All of us are spending our weekends going into gurdwaras and going to other places where we’re trying to educate the public. I think if we continue to get this messaging out there we can help save a lot of lives.”

The UBC student is also calling on the province itself to take additional steps to adapt to the diverse population.

RELATED: Families in B.C. urged to celebrate Diwali safely

As people celebrate Diwali around the Lower Mainland, health officials and Sachal are again reminding everyone to try to stick to celebrating at home thanks to the pandemic.





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