Community peacemakers build bridges in post-Ebola West Africa
06 January 2017: The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been declared over by the World Health Organisation. But the crisis has had a big impact on community security. Emily Deeming reports on work to rebuild trust in areas that continue to be divided by disease.
Bossou is a village located at the very heart of the Ebola outbreak. The region has long been politically, socially and economically marginalised, creating weak relationships and mistrust between communities and governments.
So when the Ebola crisis hit, many in the village believed the authorities were to blame. Hélène Zogbelemou, a community peacebuilder, explains:
"The rumour was that the President of Guinea needed seven tanks of blood. For this, they had to kill massively. People did not understand that Ebola was a disease. “
When it was announced that an Ebola Treatment Centre was going to be built on the outskirts of Bossou, tensions rapidly escalated. On the day it opened, a group of young people from the village burnt down the Ebola centre, while female elders attacked the office of the local Mayor. Nyanda Bamba is a youth leader who was involved in the attack:
“We believed Ebola was a poison. If Ebola was going to come to our village, everyone must rise up. So every youth stood up.”
A platform for dialogue
These platforms are comprised of respected community members, an important factor in their establishment and success, says Hélène:
“People trust us because we are from the same community, we speak the same language.”
Through community meetings and events, the DPDs are helping to destroy some of the myths around the spread of the Ebola virus. They are also bringing together communities and local authorities to discuss their grievances and rebuild trust. By providing this space for dialogue, the DPDs support the reconciliation of Ebola survivors, families of victims, and frontline Ebola workers with their communities.
So far over 13,000 people have taken part in these community dialogue sessions.
In Bossou, the local DPD spoke individually with female elders, youth in the community, and local officials, before bringing together all sides to share their problems and explore common solutions.
Today we talk
“We are very satisfied with the DPD’s work. Thanks to this platform, where [before] the people of Bossou were not talking to each other, today we talk… there is real harmony in the community today.”
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