Psychosocial Recovery from Ebola in Sierra LeoneCommunity healing dialogues are proving effective in providing psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone by addressing the trauma and stigma that survivors face. These sessions give community members a forum to raise and address their concerns about problems in the community, promoting health, wellness and prosperity in both psychosocial, emotional and economic senses. The dialogues seek to erase the stigma and promote economic recovery via micro-enterprise groups.

Poverty and Public Health Challenges

Sierra Leone is a West African country with a population of 7.5 million. Life expectancy is approximately 52 years for women and 51 years for men. The top ten causes of death include malaria, neonatal disorders, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world (women have a one in 17 chance of dying from pregnancy or childbirth), in addition to one of the highest mortality rates for children under five. The country lacks a centralized public health system, and most people cannot access health care due to extreme poverty.

Support and Strides Amid Ebola

Sierra Leone had the highest number of fatal Ebola cases in the 2014-2016 outbreak. The disease’s severity prompted the CDC and NGOs like Partners in Health to provide resources and support. The CDC mounted its largest ever response to an outbreak in an individual country, providing services that included:

  • Epidemiological/strategical support
  • Infection prevention and control
  • Case management
  • Health promotion
  • Laboratory/diagnostic support
  • Emergency management
  • Border health
  • Research support

Partners in Health also provided emergency Ebola care and stayed in Sierra Leone after the outbreak to help strengthen the country’s public health system, staff, supplies and infrastructure. It has provided prenatal care, community health services, tuberculosis treatment, mental health care, blood banking and emergency medical services. The organization also established ongoing support systems for Ebola survivors. Strengthening Sierra Leone’s health system is an important means of both alleviating poverty and helping the country heal from Ebola. However, much work remains to be done.

Returning to Communities Through Healing Dialogues

Ebola is a disease with severe physical manifestations, but its social and psychological aftereffects can also be devastating and can help ensure that those affected remain in poverty.

In the words of one lifelong resident of Sierra Leone, “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had the same psychological effects on individuals as war.”

Often, Ebola survivors are grieving for the deaths of their loved ones. At the same time, they face stigma and discrimination when trying to return to their communities because people fear that they still carry Ebola.

To address these complex and multifaceted issues, USAID’s Advancing Partners & Communities project introduced community healing dialogues. These meetings, which are conducted by trained facilitators, give community members space to talk through and resolve their concerns. These sessions are having positive effects on psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone for both survivors and their communities. Some survivors have been able to rejoin their communities free of stigma. In addition, the sessions serve as a forum for the community-based resolution of economic problems. For example, the forum led to a micro-enterprise group helping pay for a young woman’s school fee.

Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak was devastating on medical, economic and psychosocial levels. Support from governmental and non-governmental organizations have helped the country face these issues. Community healing dialogues have been extremely beneficial in aiding psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone.

– Isabelle Breier
Photo: USAID

Education for Refugees is Essential for Development
In Jordan, many Syrian refugees are struggling to settle in. The refugees went there to avoid a difficult war but it is challenging to start a new life away from home. Muzoon is a 16-year-old “champion on education” in her community. She is determined to stop the current situation from destroying the future for her people.

Muzoon believes in chances and creating opportunities. She wants to build enthusiasm toward education for refugees in her generation. She is also keen on promoting values and being independent in her thoughts and practices. Muzoon was referred to as the “Malala” of Syrian refugees.

Muzoon appreciates and acknowledges the value of education. As a refugee in a camp managed by the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, she understands that education for refugees is a key component for development. Furthermore, it is also a basic human right and the United Nations strives to provide it to all refugee children.

Currently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) takes care of 20 million refugees. Among these, 50% of the children are enrolled in primary education, 25% have access to secondary education and only 1% have access to tertiary education.

The UNHCR realizes that education is crucial for displaced communities. It serves the need for life skills and psychosocial needs. In addition to that, education promotes cohesion, provides access to valuable information and offers a safe environment.

Education for refugees is a great enabler. It provides capacity and opportunity for growth. With Syria’s war, there is a massive human crisis that requires a quick response. If refugees, especially the young generations are not educated, there is a chance of these children encountering future disadvantages such as poverty.

Just like any other major natural disaster, education deserves to be treated as of equal importance. However, providing education for refugees is a long-term cause and it will require long-term funding to achieve the development of the refugee community. An investment in education is even more important to girls. It reduces the chances of forced labor, early marriage and extremism. This investment will help young girls and refugees in general to avoid such risks and develop a purposeful life.

Furthermore, the British Council believes that the refugee community needs to be taught about hope. As an epic tragedy, the problem could have massive spillovers. Ensuring education for refugees is a key response to such a crisis.

The British Council works on integrating refugees into their new communities, especially the refugees moving to Europe, by providing language training to cope with the challenges in the new communities.

The British Council has a firm belief that humanitarian relief is very essential, but aid goes beyond simple relief. Since the scale of the crisis is huge, education will make a lasting difference.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr