UNICEF releases comic book on COVID-19, created with children’s sketches

The eight-page e-booklet seeks to demystify the disease for kids; with their illustrations, children from a resettlement area in Chennai have made it possible. The work is available in Tamil at unicef.in; and its English and Malayalam versions are said to be on the way

Updated - July 16, 2021 09:43 am IST

Published - April 07, 2020 11:04 pm IST - Chennai

Her hair in pigtails, a little girl raises her hands in an attitude of emphatic assertion. Skulking behind her, the novel Coronavirus is a blob of despair. The germ seems to be breaking out in a sweat, ill at ease with what is being shared.

This cover illustration sets the tone for a hurriedly-prepared e-booklet on COVID-19 that demystifies the infectious disease for children, and also equips them with the knowledge necessary to keep it at bay. The most remarkable feature of the booklet is the huge role played by children in its making. Children from Kannagi Nagar, a resettlement section for many urban poor, off Chennai’s IT Corridor, have done the illustrations for the book, and are even credited with conceptualising the work.

UNICEF has published the eight-pager in collaboration with InkLink, a voluntary group that seeks to empower communities through art; and pertinently here, it runs an art-empowerment programme for the children of Kannagi Nagar.

Originally, UNICEF had only an online outreach programme for the children of Kannagi Nagar, with InkLink as facilitator, in mind. The exercise was just aimed at presenting the dos and don’ts relating to COVID-19 for these children, and also free them of undue fear and anxiety they may be harbouring about it.

Children’s suggestion

“After the online COVID-19 orientation programme, we asked these children if other children should also have reliable information about the infectious disease. They suggested a comic book on the topic will ensure that,” recalls Sugata Roy, communication specialist, UNICEF. “When grown-ups entirely decide how children would want to consume a particular form of information, it would invariably result in something that will be academic and boring.”

At the very beginning, it was decided that children’s imagination would be given a free run.

“So, we let the sketches come out whichever way they did, and resisted the temptation to modify anything,” he explains.

Easy shareability

There is little scope for picking holes in the results of the exercise though. The illustrations seem neatly-etched, and fit in fine with the narrative. The booklet in PDF format has been released in Tamil, and can be downloaded from unicef.in. At the time of this article being published, Sugata said the English version was ready and would be released shortly. Sugata underlines the fact that being in PDF format, the booklet makes for easy shareability on messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

“When presented to our office in Delhi and head office in New York, the work was greeted with considerable enthusiasm. The response from New York was that something like this should be done for Mexico,” says Sugata.

In Malayalam too

He reveals that a request has come from Kerala for the booklet to be translated into Malayalam, and the request has been accepted.

More in the offing

The cover page itself carries a hint that this book would be the first of many knowledge-sharing initiatives by children — “This is the first effort by children,” it announces.

“Following the successful completion of this book, we asked the children what they would want to do for the community,” says Sugata.

He points out that already, much progress has been made with a compilation of children’s responses to COVID-19, and for this project, the UNICEF team had connected with underprivileged section of Korukkupet.

These efforts are part of psycho-social exercise meant to help children living in sections of Chennai where they are bound to be up against huge socio-economic odds.

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