Empowering Local People: Fighting Ebola in Bo

Empowering local leaders and communities and working with various organizations (e.g., government departments, NGOs) within the local context are important pillars for the sustainability of this work and for ensuring that it remains culturally sensitive. Hannah Bockarie has become a skilled therapist, trainer and the director of commit and act in Sierra Leone. She spearheaded the development of a center for commit and act in Bo where local people receive individual and group counseling, psychoeducation and ongoing training and supervision. This has also helped Hannah to empower other groups through her work (e.g., local women’s groups) and to make important connections with leaders in the area of politics, media, education and so on.

Empowering local communities has been particularly important in recent efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone. commit and act, under the leadership of Hannah, has adopted a pragmatic approach in their efforts to tackle Ebola by training local people in broadly applicable practical models and frameworks, such as ACT, PROSOCIAL and simple therapeutic tools (e.g., the Matrix). As mentioned previously, these methods can be taught in a relatively short period of time and can be used effectively by participants with very little training. Hannah trained dozens of health care workers, volunteers working in quarantined areas, women’s groups, Paramount Chiefs and teachers working within every section in Bo in the PROSOCIAL framework. These groups have used this training to provide psychosocial support for local communities, educate them about Ebola, clarify their shared values and to encourage them to engage in effective values-consistent behavior change to prevent the spread of Ebola. For instance, in some communities, people identified that their values are to keep their community safe but they also value honoring their dead via traditional burial rituals and funeral services. However, following information that people are most at risk of contracting Ebola during these burial rituals where they wash and kiss the body of the deceased, the community agreed to give the dead bodies to the WHO-trained burial units and to replace the body with the trunk from a banana tree. In this way, the community created their own solution to this serious problem and were supported to modify their behavior to protect their loved ones while still honoring their dead and preserving their most important customs.

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