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Community Engagement: A Powerful Tool in Combating Ebola
December 15, 2014

Guest post by Saran Kaba Jones, Founder and CEO of FACE Africa

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Community members put their hands in a circle to represent community engagement.
FACE Africa team joins together. Photo courtesy Saran Kaba Jones.

Five years ago I began the journey that is today FACE Africa. In that time, with the support of our team and the communities we work with and serve, we have been able to bring safe water to over 20,000 people in some of the most deprived areas of Liberia, with many more projects to come.

But the unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa has presented a new set of challenges that has required the FACE Africa team to redirect our efforts. Ebola has had a devastating impact on the lives of people already struggling to rebuild from the effects of political instability, poverty and war. In addition to the suffering of infected individuals and their families, the disease has caused disruptions in normal daily life, from school and business closings, to disrupted trade and economic activity, rising food prices, an increase in fatalities from treatable illnesses due to the closure of non-Ebola health clinics and —most devastatingly — over 3,700 orphaned children in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to UNICEF.

Men lift circular pipes for new well in Kpor town, Liberia.
Community works together to install a well in rural Liberia. Photo courtesy Keiko Hiromi.

At FACE Africa, we believe that engagement is the pathway to empowerment, and when communities are empowered to take control of a situation for themselves, you see meaningful change. They may not have all the expertise, but they have the ability to learn, take charge and even put in place their own solutions. Building on our track record of community engagement and trust developed over many years, the FACE Africa team is working with local communities in Liberia to develop and implement a response strategy with the overall aim of preventing the further spread of the virus. Our team has been working hard on social mobilization and awareness — helping communities understand the outbreak and the protective measures they can take to reduce human infection and death while reducing fear and misconceptions about the virus.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can make even the most reasoned person abandon good judgment and common sense. It is possible that the fear around Ebola stems from the difficulty in fighting it — there is neither a cure nor a vaccine. But we know for a fact that there are thousands of Ebola patients who have been successfully treated and discharged from treatment centers. As Africans, we need to tell these success stories. By telling these stories we can reduce the level of stigma that survivors have to contend with when they return to their communities. Survivors of Ebola are a beacon of hope in an otherwise shattering epidemic.

Community members talking in a circle with FACE Africa team.
FACE Africa team joins community leaders for discussion in Liberia. Photo courtesy Keiko Hiromi.

Let us celebrate the local everyday heroes, risking their lives to care for patients or bury the dead. We need to recognize the communities that are taking charge, especially in rural areas, and putting in place their own resolutions and protective measures. The eradication of Ebola will only happen through education, community involvement and the aggressive efforts of African and international organizations. All of those whose lives have been impacted by Ebola deserve our respect and compassion, not to be ostracized and excluded from society.

The Founder and CEO of FACE Africa, Saran Kaba Jones, is currently in Liberia assisting communities in the fight against Ebola. FACE Africa is a community development organization working to build and strengthen water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and services.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.