How handwashing brings courage

Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone say community support gave them courage. Find out how.

Imagine being released from the hospital after getting Ebola and going back to a community where people were afraid that being near you would kill them. What would that be like? I can hardly believe how isolating that would be. But after CARE’s Emergency Ebola Response in Sierra Leone, people had a completely different experience.

“When I was discharged they (the community) did not drive me away. They talked to me fine and accepted me and encouraged me that made me get courage. They touched me, they came to greet me and prepared fine pepper soup for me.” Information and the tools to protect themselves made the difference between isolation and welcome.

The Emergency Ebola Response project was funded by the UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee for $247,000. It reached 36,000 people between 2014 and 2015.

What did we accomplish?

  • Water was safer: 23,100 people got access to safe drinking water.
  • People knew how to protect themselves: People were 80% less likely to be wrong about the causes of Ebola, and 12% more likely to know how they could avoid contracting Ebola.
  • Hand washing went up: after the project, people were 30% more likely to wash their hands—an important tool in the fight against Ebola.
  • Families feel able to face the future: People said the response was important not just to deal with the immediate threat, but to look ahead. “the food supplies and livelihood supports empower us with skills that will enable us [to] survive with my families, rather than putting already made food on my table.”
  • People have more hope: Psychological support was one of the most important impacts communities cited: “The impact is great, some people almost lost hope in life as a result of losing their loved ones and relatives. We can now stand in open to talk about our bitter experience.”

How did we get there?

  • Focus on water supplies: The project rebuilt 45 wells, installed 20 water tanks in schools, and work with WASH management committees to take care of these resources and spread safety messages.
  • Build emergency alert systems: The project worked on awareness-raising campaigns—including T-shirts, posters, dramas, and radio shows), and set up call in numbers with local health centers so they could get immediate alerts about suspected cases.
  • Connect health centers to communities: the project worked with a network of local volunteers who functioned as go-betweens between centers and communities. They could share health tips with communities, and alert the health centers when communities needed extra support and attention.
  • Do your homework: The project conducted rapid assessments so they could adjust project plans based on the immediate needs. A key change here was to realize to get communities to bring a sick person in for treatment, rather than announcing that there had been a death.
  • Work together: The project worked with the humanitarian cluster system to make sure we weren’t duplicating services and could stay up to date with the broader context.

Want to learn more?

Check out the final evaluation.