Tag Archives: Stigma

When a public health emergency like the Ebola outbreak occurs, sharing correct information and managing uncertainty at the local level are critical steps towards preventing the spread of the virus and reducing deaths.  Working closely with the government of Liberia, Women’s Campaign International (WCI) has used their established reach – 20,000 volunteers that are part of the National Rural Women’s Program in all 15 counties, including remote rural populations – and presence in the communities to conduct Ebola prevention and response.

             WCI’s Approach to Communication on the Ground

In a conversation with Wilfred Kokeh, WCI field officer for Lofa, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh Counties, in February in Kakata, he talked about how WCI has applied its social mobilization skills to support USAID, UNICEF, and the government of Liberia’s response to the Ebola virus.

WCI field officer Wilfred Kokeh (left) syncing phones with Rebecca Martinez, WCI Program Manager

WCI field officer Wilfred Kokeh (left) syncing phones with Rebecca Martinez, WCI Program Manager

Mr. Kokeh explained that WCI’s approach differs from most other NGOs in that it is “bottom-to-top” to effect change. The overriding goal of WCI is to help people help themselves by working within their own communities to help their neighbors learn how to work independently, and create sustainable livelihoods. WCI does this by being community-oriented and what activities it starts it eventually transfers to local authorities to continue.

For the Ebola outbreak, Mr. Kokeh said that WCI “knew how to respond [to the outbreak]” from their democracy work “going door-to-door in the community.” He went on to say that “they have been successful doing exactly that” and it has made a difference in Ebola.

WCI field officers from l to r Wyaette Willet Moore, Binda Freeman, Morris Taweh, and Wilfred Kokeh (not pictured: Dominic Dennis).

WCI field officers, from left to right: Wyaette Willet Moore, Binda Freeman, Morris Taweh, and Wilfred Kokeh (not pictured: Dominic Dennis).

When the first Ebola cases were reported in Lofa County in early 2014, it spread quickly throughout the communities. WCI was working in the community on civic participation in run up to the elections and in August 2014 was asked by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to apply its social mobilization skills to the Ebola hotspots to deliver public health messaging and logistics for the delivery of food and water.

Mr. Kokeh succinctly summed up why WCI was asked to perform this activity, [WCI] was’ “not recognized as experts in Ebola, but […] as experts in Liberia.”

WCI is a unique NGO because of its close ties and relationships to the communities where it works. Community members interviewed talked of how they “felt relief” when they saw that NGOs including WCI were part of the Ebola response, and they became worried when stories circulated that the NGOs were leaving.

Wyeatta Willet Moore, WCI field manager for Montserado and Grand Bassa Counties, reiterated this response from the communities: “like after the [civil] war – NGOs coming in gave us hope and a return to normalcy.”

WCI social mobilizer (right), Makoya  Komara, and communicator (left) Mamie Sendolo, Nimba County

WCI social mobilizer (right), Makoya Komara, and communicator (left) Mamie Sendolo, Nimba County.

             The Critical Role of Women in the Ebola Response

WCI is women-centric and its core principles are to elevate the role of women in society with an emphasis on the rural, low-literate, and poor. In its Ebola social mobilization gender plays a role. It is estimated 90 percent of their mobilizers and communicators are women; the mobilizers live in the communities where they are conducting the work; and they are trusted and respected members of their community – teachers, midwives, pastors, and business women.

WCI is a partner in the USAID Ebola-Community Action Platform (E-CAP) working in Liberia.

WCI has five field managers assigned to five regions in Liberia. Each field officer is responsible for approximately 40 mobilizers and 50 communicators. Wilfred Kokeh is the field manager for Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties that cover a geographic area of 1000 miles. Wyeatta Willet Moore is field manager of Montserado County that includes Monrovia and Grand Bassa County. Morris Taweh works in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gborpolu; Binda Freeman oversees Bong, Magribi and River Cess Counties; and Dominic Dennis is field manager for Southeast Liberia – River Gee, Maryland, Sineo and Grand Kru Counties.


Monrovia, Liberia. Reported by Phil Sedlak.

Women’s Campaign International (WCI) is partnering with UNICEF and USAID on their Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) social mobilization prevention and response initiatives. With UNICEF, WCI is working in 15 counties in Liberia, and in early February, mobilizers from Grand Cape Mount, Montserado, Nimba and Bong Counties participated in training mobilization workshops. Participants were primarily women – about 90 percent. Several were teachers and educators, others were health mobilizers, and others small businesswomen.

When the mobilizers talk about their roles and what it will take to stop the virus from spreading, their commitment and dedication is apparent. They identify the barriers to them succeeding in their job. Not surprisingly, these barriers are about behavior.

Two mobilizers – Grace Nagbe from Gbarnga and Janet Benson from Ganta – participated in the mobilization trainings and were interviewed separately on what motivated them to be social mobilizers and what they see as the way to stop Ebola. An abbreviated summary of the interviews follows:

Grace Nagbe was a mobilizer with WCI prior to the Ebola outbreak, and she also has been a family planning health mobilizer. She is a WCI Field Assistant and will be coordinating the social mobilization in three counties. When comparing her past experience as a mobilizer to the Ebola work, she firmly noted that “none of those experiences have been like this…”

Grace Nagbe

WCI Field Assistant, Grace Nagbe, talks about the importance of communication and behavior change to stop Ebola.

Like so many in Liberia, Grace has lost friends and loved ones to the virus. She told the story of a good friend who was a nurse at Bong County hospital who became ill with the Ebola virus that she may have contracted from a pregnant patient. The patient, her newborn child, and Grace’s friend died. Grace was prompted to join WCI as a mobilizer because she felt so strongly about stopping the virus.

Ms. Nagbe is forthright in her opinions and her main complaint about the job is that “people are so stubborn… They don’t want to change.” She referred to the common belief among many in Liberia that Ebola is not real or that it is designed to make the “rich richer”. Grace emphatically said, “If we can get through to these stubborn people and convince them to take the right measures, we can stop Ebola in its path.”

Janet Benson is one of the WCI UNICEF Community Leads, whose job is to bring the message down to the communities and households. There is little doubt that she will succeed. WCI selected Janet Benson because of her strong commitment to how the Ebola prevention training should go and how she thought that community activists should do their job.

Janet Benson

Janet Benson, a WCI UNICEF Community Lead, is committed to bringing information to people in local communities to fight Ebola.

Ms. Benson told WCI that she wanted to “achieve things in her community.” She wants to influence leaders and community members to “shape up” and do things correctly to stop the progress of Ebola. In addition to “achieving things in her community,” she could also “teach other young people.”

She became interested in working on the Ebola mobilization, which only “arrived” in her community recently. She “learned about other peoples’ lives and how Ebola had infected them” and found out “what she could do” to help. That led her to WCI.

When asked about the future of Ebola in Liberia, she said that “a lot of what will happen is up to us [social mobilizers], the people who work in the communities.” We have to “carry the information to the people. Then they can do the right thing. They can finish this Ebola.”

“Ebola will finish because … we won’t give up. We are not quitters. Is truth,” she stated.

She went on to explain that “Now we have to work with school kids … They’re going to be harder because kids sometimes just do what they want, not what we think they should do. If we can get the parents to talk with the kids and get the kids to talk with the parents and if we can get the pastor of the local church involved – this guy has a lot of influence around the community – then we can beat Ebola.”

Ms. Benson and Ms. Nagbe are strong advocates to Stop Ebola in Liberia. They show the commitment and dedication the WCI social mobilizers bring to this initiative. And as Ms. Benton said, “we are not quitters. Is truth.”

Couldn’t have said it better.


WCI Projects in Liberia

WCI Projects in Liberia

Women’s Campaign International’s (WCI) mission is to empower women to transform communities. Specializing in transitional and post-conflict contexts, active and serving leaders throughout the 15 counties in Liberia since 2008, WCI has a long-standing relationship with actors at the national and county levels.

The majority of WCI’s staff members are Liberian and are embedded locally throughout the country. They provide contextual perspectives on how local Liberians are responding to the outbreak, its stigma, and the misconceptions surrounding it. Equally important, there is a high-level of trust and understanding because they are from the community and are talking among their peers. The communicators also have long-standing relationships and connections to decision-makers and key stakeholders.

When the Ebola outbreak occurred in early 2014, WCI was asked by the government of Liberia to provide health education outreach on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in communities where they were working. In September, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW) authorized WCI to travel to 50 communities in nine counties in restricted regions to provide humanitarian support.

In November 2014, WCI was funded by USAID’s Ebola Community Action Platform (E-CAP) to facilitate community outreach, working closely with its partner, the National Rural Women’s Program (NRWP), to educate local communities about correct preventative and response behaviors to avoid the EVD. The NRWP are trusted local communicators and serve as champions on Ebola prevention and stigma reduction. Additionally, the ECAP Training also emphasizes recovery from the devastating social and psychological impacts of the virus. In its first round of trainings held in November, 12 women from three counties (Gbarpulu, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount) were trained in Monrovia. The remaining 24 mobilizers for the additional six counties (Bong, Margribi, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Maryland and River Gee) were trained within a week. Among those trained was a survivor from the virus who shared her personal experience. She lost her mother to Ebola and her older sister also died. It was especially distressing because her sister refused to take any type of treatment because she believed the myths and rumors about the treatments and side effects.

ECAP-trained social mobilizerShe received care at the Gbarnga Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), where she recovered and was immediately hired to work. Though this tragic story has a good ending, she has been a victim of stigma from the community, which has not accepted her since she had the virus. She did say at the training that people are beginning to slowly understand that she can be useful to her community.

“Whether or not they accept [me] life goes on and I thank God for everything. My only regret is that at eighteen years [of age], I am working and making good money and my mother is nowhere around to enjoy some of it.”

Though officials are reporting that Liberia is on the verge of containing the spread of Ebola, communities must remain vigilant to its threat. Localized efforts in community engagement and resilience building have proven to be one of the best approaches to educate the nation and eradicate the virus.