The purpose of this study was to investigate the utilisation of participatory reflection and action (PRA) to facilitate rabies control in a rural community in South Africa. PRA is a collaborative engagement methodological approach that aims to enable communities to take ownership of and responsibility for addressing challenges by identifying and mobilising existing and available assets and resources within a community. As such, the study aimed to enable eight community members (the participants) to plan and implement a rabies awareness and action programme in the specific community.
I purposefully selected the eight participants who contributed to seven PRA sessions over a period of 11 months. I utilised an instrumental case study design for this qualitative study which was guided by PRA principles, and informed by empowerment theory. For data generation and documentation, I relied on PRA-based activities and discussions, informal conversations, audio-visual recordings of group discussions, photographs, field notes and a research journal. Data were analysed utilising thematic inductive analysis.
Findings indicate that rabies awareness was initially not a priority for the participants, due to more pressing socio-economic issues and limited existing knowledge of human and animal diseases and rabies in particular. In addition, participants were initially hesitant to contribute due to power dynamics, group dynamics and language barriers. Cultural beliefs and superstitions presented additional barriers to learning about rabies. Over time, however, participants’ self-confidence grew and rabies control was brought to the fore. Participants were subsequently able to identify and mobilise personal and community strengths and assets, resulting in the execution of a community rabies awareness project. Towards the end of the study, participants felt empowered, particularly with regard to speaking English, and sharing their views. Their attitudes towards dogs changed from one of indifference towards having empathy. Participants were also successful in disseminating the message of rabies control within their community. As such, findings of this study indicate that trust and confidence built through repeated participatory engagements can result in changed perceptions and actions. PRA therefore offers a feasible methodology for recognising and mobilising strengths and capacities in communities, in order to provide guidance and support in resource-poor communities – also within the field of veterinary community engagement.