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She may only be 5 feet tall, but 29 year-old Victoria ‘Vicky’ Johnson, is a force to be reckoned with. The married mother of two has been working tirelessly – and voluntarily - to help contain Ebola in Montserrado, the Liberian county hardest hit by the virus.

In late August of this year, not long after the Ebola death toll began to skyrocket and the outbreak was declared an emergency crisis, ActionAid provided Ebola outreach training for 160 women and young people as part of their Ebola response strategy. The women who participated in the training included women of the Rural Women Association (RWA) of which Vicky is a member.

The day after the training ended, Vicky hit the pavements and muddy paths of her community, Parker’s Corner in Brewerville, on the outskirts of Monrovia. She spent the whole day going from house to house, knocking on doors and telling people about the Ebola virus disease and how they can protect themselves. In just over two weeks, she had visited 140 homes. Two months later, she is still going strong.

My reason for doing this is most of the Ebola messages on billboards, radio and TV are not being made clear to the people.

“Most of the people living in my community are market women and their husbands are mostly taxi drivers,” she says. Market women and taxi drivers, and others in her community, she explains, often do not understand the standard English used in most mass media awareness messages, or they may not have access to radio or TV due to the electricity supply in Liberia and/or the expense of these items. When she goes into the community in person she can carry out her door-to-door awareness in different Liberian dialects depending on the family she meets. For this reason, volunteers like Vicky are critical for stopping the spread of Ebola.

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In her talks, Vicky tells people where the virus originates from and how it spreads. She also tells people what they can do to protect themselves and what they need to do if they or someone they know displays symptoms. She emphasizes the cardinal rules: “do not touch sick people or dead people even if you know them and wash your hands regularly with soap or with chlorine solution.” If she can, during her home visits she will demonstrate how people can wash their hands effectively.

Vicky says she draws her strength to continue with this often thankless work from her husband who supports her in her efforts, but it is her compassion for her community that motivates her. She has lived in Parker Corner for the last 13 years and everyone here has become her family, she says.

I believe that the more homes I reach, the more people will be safe.

Yet Vicky does not plan to stop with her own community; after completing awareness in Parker Corner, she plans to go to other communities to help spread information on Ebola prevention and treatment.  “We want Ebola to leave Liberia,” she says, “so we can be free to carry out our day-to-day activities and our children can be able to go to school.” 

Written by Christal-Dionne Da-Thong and Maryealee Pennoh

Ebola and the wider impact on women

In Liberia, due to the social and cultural practices, women and girls are more vulnerable to violence and more are at-risk in emergency situations, including the recent Ebola outbreak.  Recent reports have highlighted that the majority of those who have been infected or died from Ebola are women. This corresponds to the general culture where more women in Liberia are caregivers, health care providers and actively engage in cross-border trade, all of which place them at high risk of infection. ActionAid Liberia is doing all it can to support women affected by this deadly virus, including delivering essential food and non-food items to affected families in communities and Ebola treatment centres, with a higher concentration on women-led households and women who have lost family members to the virus.