End of December I had the pleasure to meet one of our partner NGOs, Commit and Act, in Bo. They are active in psychosocial support to Ebola victims. I interviewed the director, Hannah Bockarie, see video below.
Julia: Hello Hannah! I’m Julia, I’m the creator of this blog and I’m making an interview here with our partner-NGO “Commit and Act” and I would like to ask Hannah to introduce herself and the NGO.
Hannah: I’m Hannah Bockarie, I’m from Sierra Leone and the director of the Commit and Act Foundation.
Julia: Could you say what is the mission of your NGO?
Hannah: Our mission is to help Sierra Leoneans, training them and working with individuals who have psychological problems. We are supporting them by offering counselling using the “ACT”-approach. And we are also working around women, women’s groups. We empower them to be self-reliance by using our “ACT”-tools. This is what we are doing in Sierra Leone. We train different categories of people using “ACT”-approach and helping people to find their life meaningful again and identify their values. That is what we are doing. And also working with young girls that have not gone through Female Genital Mutilation. We have 32 girls and this project is supported by the Desert Flower Foundation. We are also supporting those girls, young girls under 18 to not be part of the FGM and their parents have signed a consent form. So we give them financial support for medical, for food, for used clothing, stuff like that. So this is what we do. We’re also training counsellors of different organisations, we empower them to fight against Ebola. Because we know the issue of Ebola is associated with trauma, stigma and shame and denial. The negative circle is among our people. So we want to see how to break the negative circle by using the counsellors and going to different locations and show how to break the circle of transmission.
Julia: Could you describe the problems Ebola imposes on the communities here in the psychological field?
Hannah: I tell you it is not easy for our people out here that are being affected and infected by Ebola, because there are a lot of stigma around that. People are stigmatizing the survivors and even people that are staying in the quarantined homes. There is also a lot of denial, we have the negative circle that is circulating. It is difficult to break the circle, to break the chain of transmission. Commit and Act has been engaged in different occasions, different communities providing psycho-social support to affected communities and families. And we also have been training for different partners who want to go and help out in different affected communities. We offer training sessions for them. We are also very much part of the DHM team, the District Health & Medical Team and providing support that is required. We are also part of the NERC, which is the umbrella body for the response to Ebola. We have been engaged in different quarters trying to guide the process using the “ACT” approach, which is very much applicable for the people out there. So I tell you, the issue as of now, what is in our hand is, that people are still in a state of denial, they are still washing dead bodies because they don’t believe that it is real in some areas. They also have the issue of stigma, the issue of fear and panic, stigmatizing medical staff or foreign aid workers. So there are a lot of stuff around the whole of Ebola. Commit and Act is part of the fight against Ebola and we have 25 counsellors that work in different quarantined homes in affected areas and providing counselling, providing emotional support for our people out here using the “Prosocial” approach. The approach is all about helping the people to identify the value behind what we are doing. The issue of the dead body washing, we are helping our people to identify other things that can replace the dead body instead of using the dead body, kissing the dead body, washing the dead body. We empower people to look at what they can find in the community, to represent the dead body, and then have this feeling expressed, cry, touch, wash this item. So normally in some communities they come up with using a banana trunk as one of the things that would replace the dead. We want to empower them to cry on this banana trunk, to express their feelings how they miss this person, whatever they want to do that has been missing because of Ebola. So instead of being infected with the dead body they now replace that. So this is what we are using as “prosocial” approach and it has been working for some communities.
Julia: And is there anything else, any message you want to tell our German audience?
Hannah: I’m so pleased, I’m so happy that we have a partnership established now with Welthungerhilfe. We are having a project were we will be training teachers, 50 teachers as trainers. And they will be going out in different communities in the district in 15 chiefdoms. And they are going to do training after we trained them with the “prosocial” approach. They will be going back to the community and training in 94 sections. They will be training different opinion leaders, stakeholders that are in this community. 40 per section. So in the end we will be reaching out to 3740 people in the district. So we are training them to go back to our people, to empower them to break the chain of transmission, because there is a lot of misconception, there are a lot of denial. (…) So this is what we are doing in this project. And the 50 teachers are going to be trained as teachers. And the 40 people that are coming for the sections will be coming from the different villages within that section. And I tell you the paramount chief are so much yearning to see us start our project. This will be a help to the district to break the chain of transmission because it’s all about the minds of our people that are not really accepting that Ebola is real. So the project is going to help our people better understand what is really Ebola and better be able to break the chain of transmission. Because I tell you, women have been very much infected with this EVD. And we want to see how best we can incorporate women’s groups in this trainings, so that this women can know that they cannot longer be care givers in their home when the husband is sick or the child is sick. Instead you empower your husband to go to the nearest health centre. This is also part of the training package because we have found out that women are more infected because they are the caregivers. When I’m sick, my husband will not take care of me but will call my mother or my sister to come and help me, take care of me. But when he’s sick I’ll take care. So this is where women are more involved in the infection and get infected. And even when my child is sick, he will not touch, but I’ll touch my child. So this is all what we want to see in the package, training this women, training different categories of people to be part of this break of chain of transmission. I believe this project will safe many lives and I believe Bo district will go to 0. So I want to say thanks very much to the German team that has supported this project in Sierra Leone. This is not the only organization that they have supported, but they support different organisations in different locations. So I say thank you very much for supporting us in Sierra Leone, we really love this and we know that you have helped us breaking the chain of transmission of this dreadful disease. So I say thank you and we are going to work now.
Julia: Thank you very much Hannah for this very interesting interview. Thank you to Commit and Act to have such a great project idea, we totally rely on our local partners who know the situation, who understand the people. It’s great that we found this good NGO. Thank you very much!
Hannah: Thank you.
Note: Meanwhile the project was implemented with great success. Bo is the second district countrywide that was declared Ebola-free in February.
Commit and Act in the internet: