Honoring Liberia’s Ebola Fighters: How one AJWS Grantee Empowered Communities to Protect Themselves from Ebola

Over the past month, AJWS has been paying tribute to Liberian groups that stepped up to stop the Ebola outbreak and assist those most affected by the virus, including survivors and those who lost loved ones. Today, we wrap-up our four-post series with more on Bassa Women’s Development Association (BAWODA), this time focusing on their efforts to raise awareness of Ebola throughout Grand Bassa County. We previously wrote about BAWODA’s use of AJWS funds to provide counseling and emotional support to those traumatized by the outbreak. You can read about this work and that of our other grantees in the first, second and third installments of our tribute series.


Supported by AJWS since 2012, BAWODA unites and empowers women across Grand Bassa County to take greater control of their personal and family lives, assume local leadership positions and influence political decision-making. When Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a national state of emergency due to Ebola on August 6, 2014, the group sprang to action to educate Grand Bassans about the virus.

BAWODA members and women from Fortsville, Grand Bassa County, sing during a meeting to discuss issues affecting their community.
BAWODA members and women from Fortsville, Grand Bassa County, sing during a meeting to discuss issues affecting their community.

BAWODA’s outreach was desperately needed. Despite a mounting Ebola death toll, the disease remained shrouded in mystery for many Liberians, most of whom doubted or outright denied it existed. This skepticism was often rooted in mistrust of the Liberian government, which has a reputation for corruption and a lack of transparency. With deep ties to local communities, BAWODA had the credibility needed to break through doubt, denial and confusion and convince Liberians to take key preventive measures.

Seeking to equip fellow citizens with the knowledge and materials needed to protect themselves and their families, BAWODA appealed to AJWS for a new grant to support a door-to-door Ebola awareness campaign and the distribution of hand-washing supplies to churches, mosques, hospitals, clinics and schools. The hand-washing supplies included buckets with water faucets, soap and bleach—basic necessities that can help curb the spread of Ebola, but are often difficult to obtain for Liberia’s impoverished population.

BAWODA members conduct awareness at a marketplace in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
BAWODA members conduct awareness at a marketplace in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

As soon as AJWS delivered the emergency funds, BAWODA linked up with local health authorities to facilitate trainings for its staff, women in its network, and religious and other community leaders—including men. Trainees learned the signs and symptoms of Ebola; how the virus spreads from person to person; what measures can be taken to prevent its spread; and what to do when someone exhibits Ebola symptoms. The 150 people who benefitted from these trainings then trained members of their communities, who in turn told their friends and neighbors about the virus.

According to BAWODA, thousands of people were reached by the awareness activities AJWS supported, and an estimated 40,000 benefitted from the hand-washing supplies procured and distributed with AJWS funds. The latter included students at five elementary schools, each of which also received an infrared thermometer to screen students for fever—an early symptom of Ebola—and a mattress for use in creating isolation rooms for sick children. BAWODA also offered Ebola trainings for the principals, teachers and Parent Teacher Associations at all five schools.

Own Your Own Community School is one of the institutions that BAWODA supported. The remainder of this post includes photos of students at the school in the classroom and using the hand-washing materials BAWODA provided. More than a year after the last Ebola case was reported in Grand Bassa County, the students are still benefitting from the hand-washing supplies, which can also reduce the spread of other illnesses.

Students at Own Your Own Community School, one of the institutions that BAWODA supports in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
Students at Own Your Own Community School, one of the institutions that BAWODA supports in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
Students at Own Your Own Community School, one of the institutions that BAWODA supports in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
Students at Own Your Own Community School, one of the institutions that BAWODA supports in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.
A student at Own Your Own Community School, one of the institutions that BAWODA supports in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.

Photos by Jonathan Torgovnik.

 

ziv_carolyn-150x150Carolyn Ziv is a Communications Officer for Human Rights and Story Development at AJWS.