As a member of Plan International Sierra Leone’s National Youth Advisory Panel, I strongly believe that every one of us has a role to play in disaster response.
The Ebola virus has left bitter memories in the lives of many people in my community in Sierra Leone. During this crisis life was unbearable, as deaths led to the quarantine of homes and the restriction of normal activities including going to school. It was really hard to cope, and I was afraid of contracting the virus from a friend or family member, due to how easily Ebola spread.
The situation was made worse by the lack of information available about the virus, with villages blaming the symptoms on other illnesses such as malaria. In some traditional communities, the illness was thought to be a result of witchcraft.
Youth against Ebola
The outbreak began on 25 May 2014, and suffering continues on many levels, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that our Youth Advisory Panel did some innovative work, supported by Plan International, during the outbreak. Young people committed to helping the most vulnerable made a large contribution to reducing the spread of the virus.
During the crisis, we set up virtual spaces for young people to come together for mutual and psychosocial support, and to develop strategies to ensure the right information was reaching communities. We also developed blogs and videos to transform the way young people think and act during crisis or disaster response in society.
We set up a two-way communication that operated between affected households and health workers. It helped to reduce fear caused by lack of information or misinformation about Ebola, and provided an opportunity to feed back information about support for quarantined villages and also for problem solving. The project was funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development and required young reporters to find information, opinions and solutions from their communities to contribute to the nationwide effort to contain the virus, and provide the best level of support to the most vulnerable.
A group of 500 children and young people directly reached a population of over 30,000 people and communities though these activities
We were also given media training by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist on reporting and sharing information about Ebola. We engaged in dramas, radio programmes and quizzes, and shared questions and gathered responses from community members and medical personnel via Skype, Whatsapp, phone interviews, and through simple SMS software. In particular, the youth-run local radio call-in programmes, which recommended solutions to NGOs, local and national leaders, were a massive source of inspiration and hope to communities.
A group of about 500 children and young people directly reached a wide population of over 30,000 people and communities though these activities. We heard that the blogs and vlogs we produced attracted thousands of views on social media all over the world, influenced the Brussels Ebola donor meeting, and supported a petition signed by over 165,000 people calling for further support from G20 countries.
I would like other international organisations and even governments to be inspired by our work to start prioritising youth engagement in their projects and proposals, especially in emergency situations. For now, we’ll continue working with young people in Moyamba District in Sierra Leone who interview, gather and write interesting stories, take photographs in their communities and post on social media, and eventually write blogs just like this one.
Aminata is part of a group of four young humanitarians from Sierra Leone and Liberia, who responded to the Ebola crisis in their countries, and are attending the World Humanitarian Summit Global Youth Consultation in Qatar on 1 and 2 September. They are working with over 200 other young people from around the world to finalise a global consultation process to ensure young people are listened to ahead of the first World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey in May 2016.