Emilia Amara (34) from Kuntoloh, Western Area Urban District of Freetown, literally used all the physical power, emotional intelligence and psychosocial skills she has to “kick off” the Ebola Virus which had wreaked havoc in her community amid resistance and animosity from affected people.
Emilia is one of the 180 ActionAid Ebola Response programme supported community mobilisers, who provided awareness raising on Ebola prevention in Freetown.
I remember calling a male councillor in our community to physically stop a man who was so adamant that he wanted to wash the body of his late wife who he believed had died of malaria despite telling him not to do so. We locked the corpse in one of the rooms as the man hailed insults at us. Both the councillor and myself even risked ourselves for coming close to the man, who later died after forcibly retrieving the body and washing it.
Eight members of this man’s family including him died leaving 10 orphans behind to fend for themselves. All the 10 children were hospitalised at one stage and are survivors of Ebola. “The children are now my friends but at the time they lost other members of their family, they too were hostile to me due to lack of awareness on Ebola and the shock and trauma of losing loved ones within a short space of time,” Emilia said.
“I am happy to say that I did not get difficult people all the time. There is this woman from our community, whose child is on the ActionAid child sponsorship programme who heeded my advice of not touching and washing her late husband’s body and going to the hospital early. Although she lost her husband and four members of her family to Ebola, she is one of my many survivors,” said Emilia.
I am the contact tracer for the District Ebola Response Centre in the community. If a person dies, community members alert me and I call the District Ebola Response Centre (DERC) emergency line to collect the body. I also get tip offs from other members of the community alerting me of some families hiding their sick relatives.
“The DERC was overwhelmed with the outbreak as there was a time when they took a day or two to collect dead bodies, which increased the risk of those that were close to the deceased to get infected and this frustrated our efforts,” she said.
Emilia, who is a single mother of two children and a teacher by profession, said she has assisted about 80% of her community members who comprise an estimated households of 3,243 and total population of over 10,000 people.
At the peak of things, I will hear reports of nine deaths in a day between August and September 2014, but with the awareness provided in the community, the last death recorded was six months ago (March 2015), Emilia marvelled with joy.
However she said she continues to encourage community members to wash their hands regularly, not to wash dead bodies and avoiding bodily contact. “It is however difficult for some members of my community to avoid body contact as they live in crowded conditions and one of the households here had up to 30 people, living in a small house. They are now 18 after 12 died of Ebola,” she said.
ActionAid has been implementing various Ebola response programmes with 1600 community volunteers trained to raise awareness on Ebola prevention in seven districts where the organisation is working. A total of 265,210 people have been supported by ActionAid between June 2014 and May 2015 as part of the Ebola response programme.
ActionAid has supported 1136 sponsored children in Freetown and about 7000 sponsored children in the seven districts the organisation is working in. The child sponsorship programme, which is one of the organisation’s fundraising mechanisms, links children with international sponsors who support the sponsored children’s communities with funds to do various programmes on education, health, livelihoods and women and girls breaking the cycle of poverty and gender-based violence. All sponsored children in the seven districts received education and learning materials from ActionAid as part of the organisation’s Ebola response programme.