By Meghan Smith
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Nisha Puri moved home to Tucson, Arizona, to quarantine with her family. While finishing her Master of Public Health degree remotely, she had a strong desire to contribute to her community’s pandemic response. When the COVID Corps was created, and a racial inequities team within it, she joined right away.
Nisha, along with mentors Ellie Murray and Jennifer Weuve, and other Corps members, began work on a “Safer Holidays” campaign. She soon noticed that the mainstream media’s messaging on this topic was focused on Christmas and Thanksgiving, but excluded many holidays celebrated by racial and ethnic minority groups. Existing messaging also primarily addressed holiday customs specific to the white population. So Nisha set out to create more inclusive communication – specifically a video promoting safer celebration of Día de Los Muertos among Latinx communities, and a video discussing safer ways for Indigenous communities to enjoy the winter holidays.
To get the work done, Nisha leveraged existing connections she had in Tucson, linking up with a local content creator, MadRealContent, El Rio Community Health Center, and a team of Native medical students, Rez2Med. Working with a creative team and community partners gave insight into the level of collaboration needed to put together effective health-related messaging: “it’s okay to ask the experts, and it’s important to recognize that you’re not the expert in everything,” she learned.
For Nisha, it was crucial to make sure messaging was carefully tailored to its audience, and respectful of potential viewers’ perspectives. “Something that I really wanted to adhere to from the very beginning,” she explained, “was having people from the community that we wanted to target featured in the video, and also having them tell us how they wanted to be featured.” In working with community partners, she asked questions like, “what issues do you see in the community?” and, “how do you want to address some of these in the video?”
Her efforts paid off. The Dia de los Muertos video has been viewed over 500 times on Facebook and the Indigenous holidays video has been viewed over 1,300 times.
Through this experience, Nisha learned that while data collection is important, it is not enough. “That’s where health communication comes in,” she reflected. “You can take it to the community and start mobilizing efforts. You can start outreach programs. You can take it to policymakers… So that’s really what I envision myself doing: not only getting the data, but then turning it into something.”