Three days ago, I flew from Guatemala to Sierra Leone to support our communications staff in the country over the next month. After a long 26 hour journey, I finally landed in Freetown, expecting to hear about the Ebola outbreak from the airline staff, and see lots of posters at the airport, but I did not see or hear anything about it. I was relieved in a way, thinking that maybe the situation isn’t so bad, so maybe I didn’t need to be scared. I took a bus and a boat to Freetown, and again, none of the passengers were talking about Ebola, and seemed strangely relaxed.
When I arrived at the ActionAid head office in Freetown, it was a very different scene. After a number of briefings with various country staff, it was very clear that the Ebola virus is a very real threat and is taking lives.
Yesterday, ActionAid organized a training session on Ebola for all staff with a health facilitator from the Ministry of Health. Almost 50 of us learnt the latest information on the outbreak, and shared experience working in the field. In all honesty, I was scared to sit close to the facilitator, because he had just returned from one of the areas where Ebola cases had been confirmed. He assured us that the correct thing to do was to avoid physical contact with people in affected areas. As an example, he tried to shake hands with the country director of ActionAid Sierra Leone, Mohamed Sillah, who refused to touch him. The message was clear – as counter-cultural as it may be, do not touch people, wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitizers and chlorine! I am not used to doing this, but I know I must do so to reduce my vulnerability to Ebola.
There is a huge need amongst communities to dispel the rumours and confusion around the disease - accurate information from trusted sources is key to stopping the outbreak from spreading any further. It is great to hear that people trust ActionAid, thanks to our longstanding presence in the region. That’s why we are raising awareness of Ebola and prevention through training women volunteers to do door to door visits, and distributing leaflets and airing radio jingles through community radio stations in Kono and Bo.