In West Africa, Youth Take Charge in Raising Ebola Awareness

Youth in Sierra Leone raising awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

At the height of the outbreak, youth in Sierra Leone used megaphones to raise awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

Reporting by Emmanuel Ford of ChildFund Liberia, Karifa Kamara of ChildFund Sierra Leone and Arthur Tokpah of ChildFund Guinea

We are taking a look back at the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Read about a young man who survived Ebola in Guinea, and stay tuned for more stories.

Last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa was a frightening time for everyone in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 11,000 people died from the virus. There are still some isolated cases in all three countries, but the numbers are much lower than last fall — thanks in part to young volunteers who helped spread the word around their communities about stopping the outbreak.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited the Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited Guinea’s Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund’s offices in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone trained teens about Ebola prevention — including regular hand washing and avoidance of burial practices that lead to infection — and they took the message to village markets, homes, schools and other places where the public congregates. Although many of the activities started when the infection rate was higher, young volunteers still are spreading the word in their communities.

“We sometimes went over to villages where the degree of reluctance is high, to let them know that Ebola is real,” says Naby, president of a youth club in Guinea. “We showed people how to use hand-washing kits and told them to report any case of illness to the nearest health post, to avoid unsafe contacts and dangerous burial preparations.”

In another ChildFund-supported club, this one based in a Guinean school, about 30 students in grades 7 through 10 spent a few days last fall receiving training about how the disease is spread. They discussed ways to publicize the prevention techniques, and then set upon their task.

“No room for Ebola here” was the school’s slogan during the outbreak, according to the president of that club. “On the top of our priority list was raising awareness among students to wash their hands in a bleach solution and avoid all contact with sick people and dead bodies. We also targeted environmental hygiene. Though people may wash their hands regularly, if the environment is not clean, there is a high risk of being infected.”

In Liberia, ChildFund trained more than 100 youth volunteers in Lofa, where Liberia saw its first cases. Today, they still conduct door-to-door outreach to prevent another epidemic. They often attend local markets to reach people from many towns and villages, and they distribute posters and T-shirts with prevention messages, plus detergent and disinfectants.

As a result, community members are more aware of how to avoid the virus and are less afraid of reporting possible cases of Ebola, according to ChildFund staff members in Liberia.

In Sierra Leone, during the height of the epidemic last year, ChildFund’s local partner organizations saw the need for a door-to-door campaign to inform community members about Ebola. Teens involved in ChildFund’s activities attended training and then went out to their communities armed with signs and megaphones, an action that created much wider awareness of the disease.

In the northern part of the country, youths even assisted in monitoring the border Sierra Leone shares with Guinea, where some infected people were crossing and spreading the disease from one country to the other.

Because the young volunteers in all three countries are trusted members of their communities, their voices carried the ring of authority, ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard noted recently.

“Rumors were a serious problem, including the belief that the government was making up the disease and, early on, that thermometers were spreading the virus,” Goddard said. “Youth educators were effective in helping to dispel such rumors.”

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