Feb 14, 2015. Topoe Town, River Cess County, Liberia: Barely Hours after arriving at Monrovia’s Robertson International Airport, I found myself in the towns public school at a training session organized by Africa Responds’ partner FACE Africa in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Education. The session was part of the Liberian governments “Safe Schools” Initiative – A program instituted to help ensure returning students and administrators were trained to take proper precautions to safe guard against the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease. Administrators, teachers, PTA members, and community representatives from the 26 public schools districts in River Cess County were in attendance. In many ways, this program was emblematic of the reason the Africa Responds Campaign was convened. We believed in the simple idea that community-based organizations are the key to stemming the tide of the Ebola outbreak.
Over the last 7 months, we sought to engage diaspora Africans to not only respond but also take a leadership role in tackling the Ebola Crisis. Recognizing the power and skills in our numbers, we wanted to change the idea that responding to Africa’s emergencies is the job of high net-worth individuals, large foundations, and wealthy nations– we received small and large donations from over 200 individual donors, from Africans in the diaspora and allies. Africans from Cape Verde to Somalia made their voices heard and showed solidarity using the hash tag #UnitedAgainstEbola.
We sought to raise funds to support the work of grassroots organizations like H.O.P.E Liberia (Helping Our People Excel), which was working to coordinate and train networks of community leaders in affected areas to spread prevention education and identify at-risk and active cases for monitoring and psychosocial support. Organizations like THINK (Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness) Liberia – a grassroots advocacy organization, which before the Ebola crisis was providing community outreach training to mostly young adolescent girls to educate their communities on gender based violence, adapted its’ mission to incorporate Ebola awareness and prevention. These organizations had been responding to the Ebola outbreak long before the worldwide panic and they were the key to stopping the spread of the disease. They were also largely underfunded and under resourced, especially when compared with international counterparts, and thus found it harder to carry out the important work needed to curb the spread of the disease. In the end, we raised over $100,000, from individuals, foundations and student groups like LEED’s Responds who were committed to supporting grassroots efforts in ending the epidemic. The resources and grantee relationships are being led and managed by Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), one of the co-founders of Africa Responds.
In total, we are currently supporting 10 organizations that were at the forefront of the Ebola response in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These include, THINK (Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness), HOPE (Helping Our People Excel), FACE Africa, Africare’s Liberia Programs and ACHWS (Afro Medical Community Health and Welfare Services) in Liberia, as well as WAHD (Woman’s Action for Human Dignity), FODDHR (Foundation for Development, Democracy, and human rights), CDHR (Centre for Democracy and Human Rights), AAD (Action for Advocacy and development), and CAPS (Community Association for Psychological Services) in Sierra Leone.
We also sought to tell and highlight the previously omitted stories of the amazing work of Grassroots organizations. The stories of African-led initiatives were largely absent from the mainstream narrative about organizations tackling Ebola. Most of the attention was focused on western doctors, nurses and medical personnel ignoring their local counterparts who often led multifaceted response efforts. We sought to replace this singular narrative and erasure of the local heroes with a more comprehensive one of partnership between local and international organizations. Our collective voice shaped numerous mainstream publications including The Guardian, CNN, Al-Jazeera, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and Forbes.
As I visited with our partners in Liberia to monitor and evaluate their work, I met with members of the communities they serve, I was struck by the story of the Dolo family in Freeman’s Reserve. Fohnmon Dolo’s entire family had either contracted or succumbed to the disease. Those who survived were ostracized by their community and hence couldn’t make a living for themselves. They couldn’t buy or sell at the market. Our partner organization, Afro Medical was providing psychosocial assistance for the Dolo family and theirs like them while engaging the community and educating them on how to safely engage with Ebola free individuals. While there were Emergency Treatment Units set up to diagnose and treat symptomatic patients, there was no system to recognize and/ or deal with the aftermath. This reinforced the need for community-based approaches in dealing with this and other emergencies.
“When the story of this unforeseen tragedy is told, history will be the judge that Africans Responded” – Sarran Jabbie
The Africa Responds campaign was a success and we owe that to everyone who donated small and large amounts of money, participated in our tweet chats, engaged with us on social media, helped us shoot our Public Service Announcement, and relentlessly cheered us on. While Ebola is now in remission in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Liberia is on path to being declared Ebola Free, our partners continue their critical work in making sure all affected regions are declared Ebola Free and ensuring that affected people and communities get the help they need in rebuilding their lives. As the fundraising part of the campaign comes to a close, we will continue to support our partners in their work in whatever capacity we can, and continue to tell their stories of resilience, hard work and heroism in the face of this catastrophe. In the words of our New Media Strategist – Sarran Jabbie, when the story of this unforeseen tragedy is told, history will be the judge that Africans Responded.