Youth Innovation Saving Lives in the Fight Against Ebola.
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- Age 24
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 the 1st and 2nd of September. 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.
My name is Aminata and I’m a young campaigner, age 20, from Sierra Leone. I’m a member of Plan International Sierra Leone’s National Youth Advisory Panel, and I strongly believe that each one of us has a role to play in disaster response, because any humanitarian response that is fit for the future requires innovation to change the existing dynamics of the country.
The Ebola virus has left bitter memories in the lives of many people in my community. During this crisis life was unbearable, as deaths led to the quarantine of homes and the restriction of normal activities including going to school, and the isolation of towns, villages and cities. It was really hard to cope, and I was afraid to contract the virus from a friend or family member, due to how easily Ebola spread. The situation was made worse by the lack of accurate information and messages available about the virus, with villages blaming the symptoms on other illnesses such as malaria. In some traditional communities, the illness was thought to be a result of witchcraft. The only hope I had was to use chlorine and avoid bodily contact.
The outbreak began on May 25th 2014, but the effects are still evident. I often see entire villages with rows of empty houses, class registers, missing students and orphans missing parents or family heads. Ebola has exposed survivors to stigmatism and discrimination. One 17-year-old girl says she fears going to school because she is afraid of being isolated by friends and colleagues as an Ebola orphan. She’s struggling to survive without external support, like help from the government.
The suffering continues on many levels, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that our Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) that I am part of, supported by Plan International, did some innovative work during the outbreak, when young people were committed to helping the most vulnerable, made a large contribution to reducing the spread of the virus, and are now speaking out for including young people in disaster response.
During the crisis, we set up virtual spaces for young people to come together for psychosocial support, and to develop strategies to ensure the right information and messages were reaching communities. We also developed blogs and videos to transform the way young people think and act during crisis or disaster response in society.
We set up a two-way communication mechanism between affected households and health workers. It helped to reduce fear caused by lack of information or misinformation about Ebola, and provided an opportunity to feedback information about support for quarantined villages and also for problem-solving. The project was funded by DFID, and required young reporters to find information, opinions and solutions from their communities to contribute to the nationwide effort to contain the virus, and provide the best level of support to the most vulnerable.
We were also given media training by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalism (SLAG) and Plan International Sierra Leone on reporting and sharing information about Ebola. We engaged in dramas, radio programmes and quizzes, and shared questions and gathered responses from community people and medical personnel via Skype, Whatsapp, phone interviews, and through simple SMS software. In particular, the youth-run local radio call-in programmes, which recommended solutions to NGOs, local and national leaders, were a massive source of inspiration and hope to communities to solve their own problems.
Through this innovation about 500 children and young people have directly been reached, and we have indirectly reached a wider population of over 30,000 people and communities. We heard that the blogs and vlogs we produced attracted thousands of views on social media all over the world, influenced the Brussels Ebola Donor meeting and supported a petition signed by over 165,000 people calling on further support from G-20 countries.
I would like other international organisations, and even governments, to be inspired by our work. We want them to start prioritising youth engagement in the agenda of their projects and proposals, especially in emergency situations. For now, we’ll continue working with young people across Sierra Leone, who are interviewing, gathering information and writing interesting stories, taking photographs in their communities and eventually writing blogs just like this one.
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