"We are agents of change"
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- Edad 24
My Name is Wantoe. I am 21 years old and I was born in Liberia.
My own country, Liberia, endured 15 years of civil conflict and just as we were recovering we became victims of the Ebola pandemic, with over 10,600 cases and 4800 deaths.
When the Ministry of Health announced that the Ebola virus had crossed over into the country, I was in a state of denial, it was difficult, every part of the city of Monrovia, was like a civil war. As youth groups, originally working to prevent violence against children, we had resources but the funding was not transferrable to disaster work. So we had an emergency meeting that we would take forward action without the funding and take up the fight.
Risking Infection to Spread Life-Saving Messages
Our first plan was to raise awareness. We conducted our first media appearance on radio, taking our message that Ebola was real, and how to prevent the spread of the virus. The slogan that we used was “Protect Yourself”. We also advocated for the government to do more.
We also took our messages to the infected and vulnerable communities. Where I live, the youth were in a state of denial. They argued Ebola was a man-made disaster and it was difficult trying to change their perception. But when Ebola and death started glaring them in the face they soon realised and jointed or prevention work. But in one of the worst affected areas, there was an Imam who was still bathing the bodies of the Ebola victims, transmitting the virus. He too became infected and died. Still the community didn’t believe in Ebola, so they washed his body and the virus erupted. We had to change their perception.
The chairman of an organisation in another also said Ebola doesn’t exist, it was man-made and just a way of gathering international donor money. I then told him the current statistics and the reasons why it existed and the historical analysis. He was inspired, and seeing youth giving him advice, he felt our passion and was then persuaded to provide the awareness within his community who then took action. He said he had driven away so many NGOs and even government organisations we were trying to do awareness. But, he said he was grateful that young people we were taking risks and caring about others.
After that I really felt we were making greater impact. I felt inspired and moved. I felt so passionate about doing the action. We felt we were contributing the fighting the Ebola virus. At that time we only had hand sanitizer, we didn’t have all the protective equipment. We went into the field without necessary materials, but our passion lead us to take greater risks. We had had some training on protecting ourselves in quarantined zones, but there were still risks and I afraid. I started quarantined myself at home to protect my family. One day I started to feel a stomach ache, became afraid and I told all my family members not to come near me. Thankfully it was only the food I ate.
Providing Support for Ebola Orphans
In disasters, the INGOs get statistics and provide reports, but they never know how many orphans exist. So we decided engage Ebola survivors in getting the data of orphaned children in the affected areas near us. We identified 1000 children who had lost one or both parents.
We met with orphans and discussed with them how life has been since Ebola. They told us they were lacking clothing, lack of support to go back to school and huge stigmatisation. While there, I met a particular orphan by the name of William, his story was sad because he lost both parents at the age of 12. As a child, he didn’t know what was happening or why his parents were gone. He didn’t understand the disappearance of his mother. He needed support but wasn’t getting any. When he goes and plays with his friends he always hears “Ebola, Ebola, Ebola”. He is calling on the government to help him. As it stands, he is living without any help or assistance. We have included him in our youth group and provided psychosocial support to him and other orphans.
There are thousands of orphaned children just like him that share the same problem. It makes me sad, because the government should be providing support, when they need psychosocial, logistics and education support. It is their right. Every child has the right to education, live and right to be given the materials to survive.
My Message to Decision Makers:
In Liberia now, the feeling is great that we have defeated the Ebola virus, but we are still carrying out the awareness. There are now greater challenges that Ebola has identified, especially in health care, assisting orphans and building our country resilience for future disaster challenges.
Youth groups must be funded so aid dependency can be resolved and locally, youth can be the first responders, taking on self-initiates during disaster and conflicts before humanitarian assistance arrives. The capacity of youth needs to be built to respond to humanitarian disasters and for future tasks, so we can bring change and development to the world.
We are agents of change.
Young people have and still are demonstrating that we are passionate about our world and that we are ready for an even greater task to save our ever-changing world. We have demonstrated we are an integral part of humanitarian actions and we must be included.
The most important messages I have for world leaders are as follow:
1. Provide funding to youth groups for disaster preparation and response - it is critical to mobilizing and empowering our community.
2. Prioritise orphans, like the 4,500 Ebola orphan girls and boys of in Liberia, as well as other vulnerable people during humanitarian responses.
3. Involve young people in humanitarian decision-making at all levels.
I hope the governments and organisations around the world will
support the “Compact for Youth in Humanitarian Action” to
turn my words into action.
The deaths in my country and other countries in West-Africa during the Ebola outbreak built my courage and motivation. I want to fight for the eradication of violence against children whilst striving to end human suffering. I want to be first responder in humanitarian crisis and give back to humanity when needs must.
I am waiting to start studying social work after I saw the passion in other youth. Hearing about youth in disaster risk management, seeing young people taking action and the youth envoy highlighting our Ebola work during the youth consultation ahead of the World Humanitarian summit, gave me the passion to do more. I will do more!
Written by Wantoe a member of Global Voice for Change. Find more Global Voice for Change blogs here
For more blogs by World Humanitarian Summit Youth Delegates click here