Partner in Compassion
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic grew rapidly and globally, the USAID-funded Promoting Healthy Behaviors Project (PHB) team had to find solutions to help Cambodians protect themselves and their families from disease. Nationally, public education campaigns had been rolled out via mass media on the importance of handwashing with soap for 40 seconds, physical distancing, avoidance of face touching, and coughing/sneezing into the elbow, staying home when sick, and not eating undercooked meat – encompassing the six UNICEF key behaviors to prevent COVID-19.
COVID-19 inspired fear in families, but their daily lives required them to continue leaving the house and engaging with other people – especially in markets, which have high foot traffic and interactions. Additionally, the team noted that mass media campaigns did not give the public an opportunity to practice behaviors or see them performed in a meaningful way. The final key insight was that Cambodians saw this as a fight – COVID-19 was the enemy and they were the frontline of protection.
Bokators were Cambodia’s ancient close quarter army fighters and over the last century their practice has become Cambodia’s martial art. They perform codified, dance-like movements to fight off enemies and to protect themselves and their people.
Interpersonal Communications (IPC) agents wear Bokator uniforms at market events.
Embracing the power of Bokator fighters, we developed a flow of four key behaviors (handwashing with soap for 40 seconds, physical distancing, avoidance of face touching, and coughing/sneezing into the elbow) to be practiced when outside of the house. An interactive and experiential demonstration was performed by the Bokators in rural markets in 4 Cambodian provinces, where women and other community members were able to learn the flow and the protective behaviors behind it, and were given a small token including free soap, leaflets, and reminder stickers of the movements.
Market goers practice the preventive behaviors with a Bokator.
Four teams of Bokators set up in different markets every weekday for a month – during which they interacted with 15,890 people. 51% could remember at least 3 of 4 movements, with the lowest recall being avoidance of face touching. A/B testing was done to see if a reminder call or SMS after the demo would increase recall. Those who received any reminder had improved recall, while those who received a phone call had the highest recall overall.