In December of 2013, a strange disease began to spread in a small village in Guinea, West Africa. It wasn’t until the 21st of March 2014 that this disease was identified as the Ebola virus.

Just last month, two long years after it began, Guinea was finally declared free of Ebola. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country now enters a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to make sure that any new cases are identified and dealt with quickly.

While this Ebola-free declaration made by the WHO comes as an immense relief, the work on the ground remains on-going.  Late last year a psychosocial and child protection response plan was developed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Promotion of Women and Children in conjunction with UNICEF. The plan, which will continue through April 2016, provides a minimum package of services to address the differing circumstances of children both directly and indirectly impacted by Ebola.

With the support of UNICEF, Tostan has been providing psychosocial support workshops and home monitoring of orphans, setting up hygiene kits and games, introducing cash transfers, and organizing solidarity campaigns on behalf of people affected by Ebola. These collective efforts will impact 153 Ebola orphans, including 72 girls.

On October 30th and 31st, 11 solidarity campaigns were held with the following objectives:

  • To address the stigmatization of Ebola victims or those affected by Ebola;
  • To enhance the level of integration of people affected by Ebola in their communities;
  • To provide a framework for the Child Protection Village Committees (CPVC) to discuss with communities the continuity of psychosocial workshops after schools reopen.

Each of the 11 CPVCs organized their own solidarity campaign while Tostan made a financial contribution of one million Guinean francs (1,000,000 FG) to each committee.

These campaigns are greatly important for the communities. According to Bakary Oulare, neighborhood chief of Abattoir II in Faranah’s urban district, “Solidarity is a positive ancestral value that is priceless. Whatever means are available to people in distress, solidarity remains the most appropriate way to fight against stigma and isolation.”

Consisting of welcome speeches from local authorities, testimonies of those affected by Ebola, skits, songs and traditional dances, these campaigns have been well attended, so far gathering over 4,700 participants—including more than 2,800 women.

A rich array of community members participate in these campaigns, including: chiefs, Imams, youth presidents, presidents of women groups, members of Local Councils for Children and Families (LCCF) and the CPVC, government officials, school principals, social workers and rural radio stations (a very important media outlet in West Africa). The presence of these key community stakeholders confirms their solidarity with the people affected by Ebola.

A thirteen-year-old Koulako Camara—a fifth-year student at Laya Sando primary school—summed up the impact of these efforts well: “Before, my peers did not approach me, did not hang out with me, and did not play ball with me. Since my father died of Ebola, I felt rejection through the way they looked at me. Now I feel a positive change towards me. By seeing me play on the same playground with other children, my friends knew that I was not a danger to them. I have regained self-confidence.”

Recovery from loss and illness takes time, as does overcoming lingering fears or stigmatization of the many affected by a virus such as Ebola. But with community dialogue, learning and mobilization, not only will the people of Guinea be able to recover, but they will be better prepared for any health challenges they may face again in the future.

Contributions by Mouctar Oularé