We helped during the Ebola crisis. Now we want The World Humanitarian Summit to listen to us

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A group of four young humanitarians from Sierra Leone and Liberia, who responded to the Ebola crisis in their countries, are attending the World Humanitarian Summit Global Youth Consultation in Qatar on 1st and 2nd of September 2015. They will work 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 (WHS) in Turkey in May 2016.

The WHS is an initiative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon bringing together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners to propose solutions to our most pressing challenges, and set an agenda to keep humanitarian action fit for the future.

The young humanitarians whom Plan International works with around the world have also written blogs on the four key themes of the WHS, to support their peers in Sierra Leone and Liberia to represent their views while attending the meeting in Qatar.

We helped communities and orphans during the Ebola crisis. Now we want humanitarians to listen to youth.

My name is Wantoe. I’m 20 years old, and I’m part of the Liberia National Children and Youth Advisory Board, a group recognised by the Liberian Government.

When I discovered that Ebola had orphaned around 2000 children in my country, I felt tears, panic, stress and disappointment. That’s why my friends and I from Liberia came together and overcame our financial and logistical challenges to help. But I still feel we could have done more.

Before Ebola, life in Liberia was pleasant, families lived in peace and joy despite our economic hardship. But in mid-March 2014 the virus came. It claimed the lives of 4,808 individuals out of 10,672 cases. Thousands died, including nurses and doctors. There was widespread panic and fear, especially in August 2014, as dead bodies were scattered on almost every corner of the towns and cities. It has left a lasting effect on our lives socially, economically and morally, whilst unveiling various challenges that require humanitarian aid and attention.

The Liberian National Children and Youth Advisory Board wants to achieve a world where violence against children and youths will be eliminated, but children’s rights are consistently compromised and violated during humanitarian emergencies. Families who normally live in a constant state of vulnerability can find themselves in immediate humanitarian need when disaster strikes, and in these situations, the most vulnerable victims are children.

Back then, I knew the elimination of the virus must happen not just at the top of society, and that individuals must contribute by volunteering to stop it. Therefore I suggested to my team of 11 fellow young people that we dedicate ourselves to fighting Ebola. We were all moved by the situation we faced, and we were not going to sit back and watch our family and friends die, so we used our own money to cover the costs of our planned activities.

We started with media awareness, because at that time, the vast majority of Liberians didn’t know what Ebola really was and how they could avoid getting it. We conducted a week’s workshop for young people and communities, run by a trained medical practitioner. Then we visited all the local radio stations, walking long distances to get there, spreading our message that you could keep safe by abiding by all of the preventive measures.

But we didn’t think that being on the radio was enough, so we decided to engage in door-to-door awareness, even though we knew it was risky. We visited everyone from children to adults, the literate to the illiterate, government officials to pensioners. They all were all inspired, educated and able to prevent contamination with our messages of knowledge and hope.

We also wanted to engage with Ebola survivors to find out about the numbers of children whose parents had died, and who had subsequently became orphans as a results of the virus. Later I found out that we were the first institution to have completed a comprehensive survey of Ebola, which helped raise the issue of Ebola orphans worldwide.

We were able to support some of the orphans, but not all, with food, buckets, soap and other items. We tried to track down their family members, so that they didn’t have to go into orphanages. But long term challenges remain for these orphaned children. They require scholarships for school and financial support for their housing.

Since Liberia has been declared Ebola-free, hope now grows in our country, but there are still many obstacles to overcome. I would like to encourage world leaders to be more constructive and passionate in responding to disasters, as well as finding solutions to ending our humanitarian crises.

I also want youth to be more involved in dialogue to find solutions, and participate in getting things done. We need to change the way humanitarian funding is allocated and enable finances to be distributed to community organisations, most especially youth advocacy groups during and after disasters. There needs to be longer-term support for communities, and a will to meet the short term immediate needs of children affected by a humanitarian crisis.

My message to young people is, youth need to strive to join the fight against disasters when it calls on us. Moreover young people must continue to work with the passion they have always exhibited, despite been volunteers, as we try to make the world a better place.

This is a Global Voice for Change blog - find more here.

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