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Activating young people in Kenya and Tanzania to champion hygiene behavior change

October 6, 2023

This article was originally published on the COVID-19 Hygine Hub Website.

Country and Region: Kenya and Tanzania, East Africa

Organization: Shujaaz Inc., under a project led by Amref Health Africa in Kenya, in collaboration with the National Business Compact on Coronavirus and supported by FCDO and Unilever

Point Person and Role: Sylvia Thuku, Research Manager, ShujaazInc.

Population served by the program: (# of people): A combined reach of 9.5 million 15-24-year-olds in Kenya and Tanzania (7.7m in Kenya with a combination of print and online media, and 1.8m on social media in Tanzania)

Unique characteristics of the setting:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for responding to the COVID-19 global pandemic. While ‘self-isolation’ at home might work for some countries and contexts, for young East Africans living in informal housing with limited access to clean water, alternative and creative measures needed to be taken. 

Past experiences with pandemics and outbreaks of infectious disease highlighted the need for public health messaging from trusted, local sources – messaging rooted in community engagement and shaped by the lives and contexts of the people who are receiving it. In Kenya and Tanzania, where over 60 percent of the population are youths, that messaging had to speak to young people. 

From July to December 2022, Shujaaz partnered with Amref Health Africa and National Business Compact on Coronavirus (NBCC) on the #Lindafam (Protect Your Family) campaign. The campaign was designed to activate 15-24-year-olds in Kenya and Tanzania at the national level to champion positive knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours in personal and environmental hygiene practices. The campaign was carried out on online social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok (which most young people use to get their news and information), as well as offline through the distribution of printed comics.

 Number of cases and deaths due to COVID-19 at time of publishing

Kenya: 342,810 confirmed cases and 5,688 confirmed deaths as of January 29th, 2023 (Our World in Data)

Tanzania*: 42,600 confirmed cases and 846 confirmed deaths as of January 29th, 2023 (Our World in Data)

*We note that the silence on COVID-19 by the Tanzania government may have contributed to limited public data on the infections and deaths since 2020.

Number of COVID-19 vaccinations at time of publishing:

Kenya: 10.86 million people fully vaccinated as of January 8th, 2023 (Our World in Data)

Tanzania: 29.27 million people fully vaccinated as of December 11th, 2022 (Our World in Data)

Briefly describe the key components of your COVID-19 or WASH intervention/response program:

Shujaaz Inc., based in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, is a social venture network geared towards connecting young people with information, skills, and resources. Their three core programs include SHUJAAZ, a multi-media youth platform – East Africa’s biggest youth brand, SHUJAAZ BIZ which is comprised of a digital and real-world learning community designed to up-skill young entrepreneurs, and MESH, an online community for entrepreneurs working in the informal economy. 

Shujaaz partnered with Amref and NBCC to run #LindaFam, a mass-media campaign on analog and digital platforms to reach 9.5 million 15–24-year-olds in rural and urban Kenya and Tanzania between July and December 2022. The purpose of the campaign was to promote preventative hygiene behaviours at scale and encourage young people to protect their loved ones from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated. 



A screenshot of an Instagram post from a Super Fan who played a part in amplifying the Global Handwashing Day campaign


A screenshot of a Facebook post on one of Shujaaz’s character pages used for the campaign

Established in 2009, Shujaaz now reaches 7.3 million comic book readers, and 4.4 million social media followers, and receives over 60,000 SMS messages every month—translating to a reach of 56% of young Kenyans and 24% of young Tanzanians. To slow the spread of COVID-19, Amref and NBCC worked with Shujaaz to mobilize youth to adopt life-saving behaviours at scale, charging young people to raise awareness by talking to their friends about COVID-19, to go shopping so vulnerable parents and elders could avoid crowds, and encourage friends to stay home to keep their families safe. #LindaFam centred young people as vital heroes in the fight against COVID-19 in the following ways: 

  • Illustrated comic stories and social media content featuring young heroes of hygiene practices, i.e., young people wearing masks to protect themselves from contagious respiratory diseases, wearing masks as fashion statements, carrying sanitisers, and washing hands often.
  • Illustrated comic stories and social media content depicted Shujaaz heroes protecting their dreams, businesses, family, money, and health by adhering to responsible public health measures. We highlighted how contracting COVID-19 could take a toll on young people’s lives and what they care about the most. The campaign held a spotlight on everyday community heroes, telling stories of how they were practising positive hygiene behaviours, such as utilizing handwashing stations. 
  • Shujaaz joined other Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC II) partners in marking the 2022 Global Handwashing Day on 15th October 2022 at the Amref International university in Nairobi. On the day, #LindaFam campaign was amplified on social media, promoting the importance of proper handwashing behaviour by integrating the hashtags #tumenawa, #oshamikono and #globalhandwashingday. In addition, Shujaaz fans were invited to a handwashing challenge where they shared short videos on online platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, and rated each other on proper handwashing with soap. This challenge had a reach of 845,000 and engagement of 18,278.

During the campaign period, from July to December 2022, we printed and distributed countrywide 1,500,000 comics through the Saturday Nation and our “Super Fan” network of over 3,000 volunteer distributors – citizen journalists and content creators. In addition, the campaign reached over 5 million young people through comic distribution in Kenya, more than 2 million through our social platforms in Kenya and over 3 million in Tanzania. We had an engagement of 470,000 in both countries.


Examples of Shujaaz comic covers


Below are screenshots of the diverse activations constituting the #Linsafam campaign.

Examples of a Facebook post on one of Shujaaz’s character pages used for the campaign

What process did you use when designing your COVID-19/WASH intervention/response program

Through Shujaaz’s Ground Truth research methodology, which consists of nationally representative, cross-sectional youth surveys, digital conversations, academic research, and quarterly deep dives/interactive sessions on priority topics between Shujaaz research staff and Shujaaz youth network members, we gained valuable insights into the thoughts, concerns, and information gaps that young people in Kenya and Tanzania faced regarding COVID-19. We also learned about youth behaviours in terms of observing COVID-19 preventative measures, including positive influences promoting good hygiene and vaccine uptake as well as barriers that prevented youth from observing public health measures. 

The GroundTruth research generated four key insights on which we based the #LindaFam campaign:

1.     Young people have become desensitized to COVID-19 and no longer deem it a threat to their lives. As a result, hygiene practices declined over the past two years. 

2.     With government regulations no longer being enforced and media stations no longer sharing updates on COVID-19 cases, there was the impression that COVID-19 was no longer a priority or even a pandemic for that matter. 

3.     Competing interests, such as basic needs –food, rent, etc., took priority over the concern of COVID-19 and hygiene practices. 

4.     Young people value their families, loved ones, businesses, having fun, and hanging out with friends. Younger audiences also care about finishing school on time. COVID-19 got in the way of all the above. 

Importantly, we realized that young people would go to great lengths to protect the people and things they care about most. We used this critical insight to develop a persuasion strategy that would spur intrinsic motivation.

What is one thing that has been working well so far:

Is there something other interventions/programs could learn from this:

Showcasing real-life heroes in the #LindaFam campaign connected our messaging to our target audience in a meaningful way. Shujaaz fans saw themselves, their friends, and their neighbours in our comics, discussions, and social media stories, making the urgency of the situation and the autonomy our fans possessed to be their own ‘heroes’ relatable. 

In addition to the positive feedback and engagement from fans brought on by elevating local heroes, another impactful attribute of the campaign was extending the messaging beyond COVID-19. Our behaviour change messaging around mask-wearing, handwashing, and vaccination included benefits beyond protection against COVID-19. For example, healthy hygiene behaviour helps ward off the risk of cholera, and mask-wearing helped keep young people warm as well as protected against the spread of the common cold. This promoted increased hygiene behaviour in the short term, and we expect, could have a positive impact on sustained behaviour change for the long term. 

What is one challenge that you have encountered:

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of urgency around stopping the spread of infection has largely dissipated and is reflected in the relaxed public health measures. COVID-19 is seen as “old news” and creating conversations or content about the pandemic and vaccines without context or relevance to people’s everyday lives can make one sound tone-deaf, especially to a young audience. 

How are you trying to overcome this

Messaging around COVID-19 and vaccination in the #LindaFam campaign is always integrated with the relatable life experiences of our target audience. Instead of solely focusing content on COVID-19, we integrate messaging that highlights good hygiene behaviour as a societal norm instead of a one-off behaviour tied to the pandemic. We rely on our research and consistent engagement with fans to ensure our messaging is up-to-date, relevant, and meaningful. 


Screenshot from a video on how to wash hands by Shujaaz DJ:

How have you been engaging communities throughout your intervention/program:

Shujaaz engages young people through social media platforms, comics, and SMS. Young people are invited to share their thoughts, concerns, and issues. We analyze the feedback, respond to messages, refer crises to verified experts, and post back dilemma questions to the wider audience for crowdsourced solutions. 

Daily online conversations also integrate emerging hygiene issues affecting young people beyond COVID-19, including centering handwashing as a key preventive hygiene practice to combat recent cholera outbreaks in Kenya.


A screenshot of a Facebook Reel on one of Shujaaz’s character pages used for the campaign

What feedback have you received

We have received a huge amount of feedback from our fans. Below are some comments from across our platforms:

“In my hood Kawangware, nowadays I don’t even see the handwash stations that used to be there. I last sanitized when I visited a Huduma center in Kibera two weeks ago.”

“I last sanitized last year when corona was a thing. It’s a ric[h] people problem nowadays.”

“I sanitize religiously when going in and out of spaces.” 

“Corona is for the rich. The rest of us don’t care. 

“We sanitize and wash hands before meals. Corona was just a money-making project for the government.” 

“I can’t walk around without a mask. Not because of corona, but to protect myself from the cold.

“I wear it [a mask] when I have a cold so I don’t put other people at risk.”

“In terms of hygiene, Covid saved us a lot. We are still washing our hands regularly. Before then, we didn’t even wash our hands even after visiting the toilet.”

“Covid affected everything. We’ve had to start from zero.”

“Those who got vaccinated have nothing to worry about.”

“It reminds me of how I used to struggle without work back then. I used to wear a mask to hide when I was broke. Hygiene is a must, and I don’t greet people nowadays.”

While comments vary in terms of how young people in Kenya and Tanzania are upholding or breaking away from healthy hygiene behaviours, this feedback is critical in reinforcing what the campaign is doing well and indicating where we need to make changes or increase our efforts. 

What systems are in place to monitor intervention/program outcomes:

What tools are being used:

During the #Lindafam campaign from July to December 2022, Shujaaz’s national network of 3,000 Super Fans (citizen journalists and content creators) distributed 1,500,000 copies of the Shujaaz comic book, and our intensive social media campaign rolled out simultaneously.

Our in-house social media data team, which track the performance of all digital activities on Shujaaz social media pages every week, was able to capture indicators of the #Lindafam campaign. These indicators include:

  • Number of posts on each platform
  • Total reach of posts 
  • Engagement on posts
  • Video views 
  • Post likes
  • Post comments and shares. 

In addition, an array of proprietary software used by the team enabled us to capture indicators such as average watch time for the videos (an average of 15 secs watch times for 2 minutes and 30-second videos) used in the campaign, number of photo views, link clicks, and video clicks to play. 

To amplify the campaign’s reach beyond Shujaaz’s fan base, we also worked with micro-influencers. 


How might your experiences responding to COVID-19 change the way your organization designs and delivers hygiene programming long-term:

The #Lindafam campaign was designed to evolve, adapt and align with the changing COVID-19 situation in Kenya and Tanzania – and, as always, to the feedback of our fans. We continuously analyzed the SMS and social media responses received from our fans, and we were able to track awareness levels, unearthing the concerns of young people during the pandemic. This continuous monitoring has proved critical to ensuring that our campaign remains relevant and meaningful; it is something we would take forward to future campaigns.

We also worked closely with the local government and a panel of global health experts to ensure that each stage of the campaign was aligned with the latest public health advice. Collaborating with local governments had the added benefit of making sure the voices of young people are heard where they were needed most.

Long-term, we intend to deliver similar campaigns at scale to slow the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases to safeguard the health and well-being of young people across East Africa.


Category: Community Forum

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