Reaching Ebola Survivors in West Africa
Headwaters volunteers traveled to Liberia and Sierra Leone with the desire to support survivors of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak. Volunteer Annie Logan, a native of Liberia and a U.S. citizen, introduced the team to Pastor Joseph Gardea Johnson of Restoration Baptist Ministries, her former congregation. The team participated in the church’s weekly feeding program for children. The church also participated in a conference honoring healthcare workers who worked the front lines of the epidemic. There, our volunteers presented and discussed When the Great Sickness Came, a book developed by Headwaters in 2015 for children in West Africa dealing with loss as a result of Ebola. Our volunteers also met with Liberia’s Gender Ministry to discuss support for women and children who are victims of abuse. Meetings were also held with Destiny Women International Liberia and Friends of Liberia.
The team then traveled to Sierra Leone where the epidemic is also having a lasting presence. Thousands of people, many of them children orphaned after losing their parents, live with the lingering fear and stigmatism associated with the disease and efforts to contain it, while those who were stricken with the disease and their families face fears of contamination or relapse.
Headwaters’ partners in Sierra Leone were Healey International Relief Foundation, Tzu Chi Foundation, and Carritas, NGOs working to assist vulnerable individuals in this country long affected by civil war and socioeconomic problems. Healey was one of several organizations that helped to distribute When the Great Sickness Came to schools and orphanages. The trip was a chance for author Lyndsay Hage and the book’s cultural advisor Annie Logan to see firsthand the impact of the book. “I was fearful for my family and country when the outbreak occurred,” said Annie. “The book was an opportunity to do something to help people affected. Seeing now how the book was helping children was very emotional.”
Traveling out from Freetown, team members reached children at a number of orphanages and schools, reading the book and discussing the emotional healing process. They also taught techniques for coping with stress. In addition, the Headwaters’ team met with members of Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors, a support and advocacy group serving adult and children survivors.
The team visited several orphanages that had received When the Great Sickness Came. At the Fatima Orphanage, students – many of whom had lost parents to the disease – created a play based on the book as a way of coping.