During the Ebola outbreak I saw a lot of people being infected or dying in my community. I thought I should, in some way, help save my community and help get rid of this dreadful disease.
I was already a member of Plan International’s youth advisory paneI in my area and I joined a programme in Ebola-affected communities where we were trained to help protect ourselves from infection and raise awareness of how to stop the spread of Ebola. Later in the outbreak, I worked with other young people to give a voice to the most vulnerable children and community members, and share their views with government officials and media.
How we challenged myths
This work played a pivotal role in stopping the spread of the Ebola virus in my community. There was lots of fear, denial, myths and a lack of confidence, due to a lack of information. During an evaluation of our work, Aminata, 17, from Bombali District said: “We were able to change the views of people who had the denial syndrome, people who felt Ebola was not real, and that it is a curse.”
One old woman told me: “I heard that Ebola is man-made and that an airplane was sent to spray the disease to kill us all in Sierra Leone.” Others would tell you medical personnel sprayed too much chlorine on their relatives and as a result they lost many of them. So people preferred hiding the sick to going to hospital.
We, as young people helped establish over 50 community reference groups, supported by Plan International and the UK Department for International Development. We held discussions with members on the response activities. We also had suggestion boxes where members of the community could post opinions confidentially. We would follow-up with local chiefs and leaders on the issues we found to find solutions to issues raised.
Using an SMS text system, we shared these views with Plan International, who collated the feedback for the heads of the response, district and national government officials. Then the officials’ responses to people’s questions were fed back to the reference group members via meetings and radio.
How we spread information to stop Ebola
We also shared the messages about Ebola on the radio and on WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype. From the information collected, we developed blogs for international websites. Also, we held WhatsApp discussions and conference calls with young people from Liberia, the UK and Norway from which we produced a video (shown above) to support a petition campaign asking for greater support from G20 leaders to tackle Ebola.
Our messages, blogs and videos attracted hundreds of thousands of views all over the world. We heard that reports of our work helped Plan International Sierra Leone get more funding to respond to Ebola. The G20 campaign got over 165,000 signatures.
Innovation is not just about technology. Innovation is about how organisations and institutions work with young people. Many members of Plan International’s local youth advisory panels joined the fight against Ebola. The feedback mechanism we helped set up meant children were able to raise awareness in their communities and gain respect from local leaders. Also, people started building trust and confidence in medical personnel and began attending clinics and hospitals.
What I have learned
This programme introduced me to social media work and other knowledge. I can train other people and have more skills in how to engage community people. I learnt that volunteering with the community is the most difficult but most important work in life.
I really enjoyed the production of blogs – I wanted people and donors to support the response. Discussions with other young people via WhatsApp and Skype calls were inspiring, and we supported each other, especially those directly affected by Ebola.
We are now heroes and heroines as we eventually overcame the deadly disease and we have more skills now to deal with Ebola. All the youth advisory panels have been involved in post-Ebola strategy and planning in Sierra Leone. We want to share our experiences widely to ensure we help other communities and countries that face similar difficult situations.