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.
She 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.