In Libya, information is protection as it is power
By Seetashma Thapa
Tawasul, which means “communication” in Arabic, is a call centre serving people in Libya. The hotline is the brainchild of the World Food Programme (WFP)-led Emergency Telecommunications Sector (ETS). The service is evolving to ensure marginalized groups have access to the call centre.
Upon dialling 1404, people of all ages and backgrounds can connect to a trained operator who offers information on protection issues, cash, and food assistance as well as food, shelter, and education.
Continuous incidences of violence, the ongoing impacts of conflict, and the COVID-19 pandemic have created a dire situation in Libya, and in the frontline of such crises are vulnerable people, such as those living with disabilities, silently bearing the brunt.
Importantly, operators are also trained to respect callers’ privacy. Depending on the case, referrals are made to relevant UN agencies and NGOs who can address a person’s specific issue. Tawasul is also the national COVID-19 informational hotline in Libya, where people can call and seek reliable information on the virus.
Tawasul makes follow-up calls to check whether people have been properly assisted and to see if they were satisfied with the service received.
“I will share information about Tawasul with people from my network and encourage them to share it with their friends,” said Bassem Al Garradhy, Head of Zaykom Zayna, a local NGO in Libya that works on disability rights. “I know many people in my community who will benefit from calling Tawasul 1404.”
Leaving no one behind
According to the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, out of the 1.8 million people in need, an estimated 15 percent of them are people living with disabilities. As of 30 November 2021, over 20,000 cases were registered, out of which only 1 percent were from people with disabilities in 2021.
Community feedback given to Tawasul is essential for informing the design of humanitarian programmes — especially those that benefit marginalized groups, including people who have disabilities.
In response, WFP Libya hosted an awareness-raising event focusing on how to spread the word about Tawasul among people living with disabilities. To ensure accessibility to people living with visual disabilities a braille booklet with information pertaining to humanitarian assistance and a COVID-19 information hotline Telephone receiver was also developed.
“Many women who have disabilities do not have the vital information about humanitarian services or COVID-19,” says Zahra Al Bebas, a Libyan artist and disability inclusion advocate who has a physical disability herself. “Tawasul will give this group of women information that will make long-lasting impacts on their lives especially as COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat,” she says.
Speak to me in a language I understand
The hotline has also been working hard to make information more accessible to many different language groups.
When the hotline was launched in 2020, Tawasul was available in just three languages: Arabic, English, and French.
The call centre now boasts service in Hausa Tigrinya, Amharic, Somali, and Oromo. “When we develop a product, which is constantly interacting with people, there is a real need to localize it to ensure that people can resonate with it,” says Ariuntuya Tsend-Ayush, Inter-Agency Common Feedback Mechanism lead for WFP Libya.
The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) — sometimes referred to as Sector (ETS) — is a global network of organizations, under the global leadership of WFP, that works together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies. www.etcluster.org
Seven different agencies that includes Cesvi, Danish Refugee Council, International Organization of Migration Intersos, Norwegian Refugee Council, Premiere Urgence Internationale, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are supporting the call centre, while WFP and ETS oversee the overall functioning of the CFM.