“Ebola has challenged and broken relationships. We have to help fix them.”
Cherner B. Kamara is a volunteer with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society. Based in Port Loko, his role is to provide psychosocial support to Ebola survivors as they try, amidst fear and stigmatization, to reintegrate back into their communities. This is his story.
I have been a volunteer with the Red Cross for the past two years. I am a psychosocial volunteer, which is an important intervention because when someone suffers stress or trauma that individual needs support in the form of counselling so that the trauma that is within him or her will reduce.
When Ebola patients are discharged, they are very happy. They appreciate the support that the Red Cross gives them with the survivor kits after their old possessions had been burned (to avoid further contamination). After being discharged, they sometimes face mental problems such as depression; others have health problems such as headaches, joint pain and swelling.
The majority of communities are glad to receive the members of their families back. Ebola is a severe and dangerous disease, so when a family member gets sick, the others panic. They may not expect their family member to return, so when they see them again they are very happy.
We prepare the communities for a survivor’s return by going there and explaining that Ebola is an epidemic and that no one wanted to get sick. When the individual is cured they should be accepted like a brother or sister, and that person is no longer an infected person, but an Ebola survivor. They should not be stigmatized, and stigmatization should not be tolerated.
There are sometimes problems of stigmatization, but this is not the majority of cases. We are having a case of one family at the moment in Port Loko which is being intimidated by other community members. The family has been blamed for some of the recent outbreak of Ebola in Port Loko, and the grave of the grandmother has been vandalized. The family is not allowed to pass by certain areas of the community and has been termed as disease spreaders. We have sent psychosocial volunteers to this community to speak to the neighbours, so that they will receive the family back.
Many children have lost their mothers and fathers to Ebola, so the Red Cross has also provided kits with food and household items, such as mattresses, to the families which have taken in the children. But Ebola orphans are still a big challenge.
A moment which is always positive, for me as a volunteer, is seeing a survivor being reintegrated into their community. When I go there to give them their survivor kits, the community gathers around and everyone is very happy. The kits really help them restart their lives because most of them have lost a lot of their possessions because of Ebola. In that moment, when the survivors receive the kits, I’m really happy.
The difficulty of doing this work is the road network and the distances between the communities, so at the end of the day I return quite late to the office or home, sometimes at 8 o’clock or later. I get tired because of the distances and rough roads.
Even though the case numbers are dropping, I think we have to continue with psychosocial support. If we stop counselling these people, they will have great difficulties dealing with their trauma. It is best to continue the support to not only the survivors, but their families and their communities. Ebola has challenged and broken relationships. We have to help fix them.
Psychosocial support volunteers deliver household items to Ebola survivors in an effort to help them begin to rebuild their lives.
Photo: Lisa Pattison