What is the most effective way to educate Orang Asli about the need for vaccination against Covid-19?
The answer - TikTok videos.
An online video contest on the benefits of vaccination was held to convince the Orang Asli to protect themselves against Covid-19.
The contest from Aug 15 to Aug 31 was co-organised by the Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Network (JKOASM), Orang Asli Gombak Hospital (HOAG) and Universiti Malaya (UM) Team Poster Covid Language Orang Asli.
The winner, who will be announced on Sunday, stands to win RM1,500.
The contest garnered 30 entries from Selangor, Pahang, Perak, Johor and Negeri Sembilan.
One of the entries showed two women from the Selangor Mah Meri village reminding each other to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
In another video, three Orang Asli teenagers from Kuala Rompin, Pahang urged the Orang Asli to shed their fears over the vaccination and to enjoy dining together in again.
The organisers had cited several viral videos as examples for the participants. These videos had likened the vaccines to wearing a seatbelt when driving, taking birth control pills or donning a bulletproof vest.
Another example was Tiktok user Ervi.j's video in response to Sabah's dismal vaccination rate, which posed the question, “Don’t you miss aramaiti' (drinking happily together)?”
One of the organisers Rusaslina Idrus, a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said the UM Team Poster Covid Language Orang Asli has been designing various posters on the importance of vaccination and adhering to the Covid-19 SOP.
When the team realised that posters had limitations with regard to getting the message across, other avenues were explored.
“The Orang Asli community has been making videos. I have seen their videos appealing for their rights (to be safeguarded).
“Furthermore, the Orang Ali youth are fond of TikTok. So, we thought of using a more interactive format. But rather than us making the videos, we let them do it,” she told Malaysiakini.
The participants were permitted to use their respective languages or Bahasa Malaysia while the video must not exceed 60 seconds. Half of the entries were done in the Mah Meri, Semai, Semelai and Temuan languages.
Treat them as stakeholders in public health
Rusalina also lamented that the Orang Asli community is portrayed in a negative manner, citing reports describing them as anti-vaccination or that they flee into the jungle to evade Covid-19.
She said such reports give the impression that the Orang Asli are the problem, not the solution.
The authorities, she added, use a “top-down approach” when handling issues related to the Orang Ali, which assumes that the community does not have equal status in the decision-making process.
Rusalina said this is the reason the contest used the hashtag #oalawancovid (Orang Asli fighting Covid-19) to show that the community plays a crucial role in public health.
“We hope to change the discourse both for the public and Orang Asli to show that the community is a partner in public health issues. Addressing the pandemic requires the community to be involved in the solution. They are not the problem, they are the solution,” she added.
Rusalina said many of them are afraid of getting vaccinated for Covid-19 because of the lack of information and not due to them being anti-vaccination.
She pointed out that the authorities did not often consult them in the decision-making process, which resulted in a lack of trust.
Instead of pressuring them or dismissing them as ignorant, the authorities should look into their concerns and provide relevant explanations, she said.