Red Cross volunteer uses lessons learned during Ebola to shape his future

تم النشر: 13 أبريل 2016 7:10 CET

By: Katherine Mueller, IFRC

He is the soft spoken one of the group. A gentle soul. A young man who learns a lot through the simple act of observation. Once committed to a cause, he sees it through, even when faced with much adversity. “I almost quit,” Kandeah Kamara admits, reflecting back on his work as a member of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society safe and dignified burial team during the Ebola outbreak. “But I sat back and thought, if I leave this work, who will do it? It is our community and our people are dying, so I decided to continue.”

A first aid volunteer with the Red Cross before Ebola, Kandeah was used to being welcomed in communities. He was confident that the emblem of the Red Cross would protect him. It was very different with Ebola. “We were given t-shirts but we wouldn’t wear them because they had the word Ebola on them and we would be stoned,” he says. “When we reached one village, we were almost beaten. We were not welcome at all. As soon as they saw us, they said we were taking Ebola to the communities.”

Shunned by his own family, Kandeah was left with few options on where to turn. “I had nowhere to go. I went to a friend who had a kiosk at the junction. It was in that kiosk that I was sleeping. It was empty, and I slept on the ground, but he gave me a blanket to sleep on.”

The situation grew even more tenuous following the death of a prominent medical doctor in Sierra Leone. “People said ‘you don’t know nothing about medicine. You see a medical man died. What about you? You don’t know nothing about medical’.”

And it was true. Kandeah had basic first aid training, but it was nothing that would prepare him for responding to the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak. So the 21-year-old listened very intently to the instructions provided during training by the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Red Cross. He practiced what they preached, and ensured his team members were doing the same. He was invited to travel across the country, training other Red Cross teams as the virus spread. “For me, I think I was very safe because I knew I was well protected. I knew nothing would happen to me.”

Recognizing the risk involved in the task at hand, the Red Cross began offering financial incentives to the burial team members, hazard pay if you will. “When we started on 17 July 2014, there was no incentive but still we volunteered,” says Kandeah. “It is why we are volunteers.” Collectively, Red Cross teams buried more than 28,000 people during the Ebola outbreak. Not one team member became infected with Ebola.

Forgiveness and looking forward

Kailahun district in eastern Sierra Leone, where Kandeah worked during the outbreak, has not seen a case of Ebola in one year. Life is returning to normal and Kandeah and his team are being accepted again although, “some people are still taunting me about the incentive, saying that once the Ebola money finishes I will be back at square one.

“But I have it in me that before the money finishes, I will have done something that will improve my future.” To start, he has found a room to rent. It is sparsely furnished, and he has few possessions, but he is satisfied with what he has achieved. Proud that his efforts helped bring Ebola to an end. “I feel very proud. I feel I am a hero,” he says without a hint of boastfulness.

The Red Cross and UNDP have joined together to help 800 burial team members in Sierra Leone reintegrate into their communities. Members can choose from business skills development, vocational training or continuing their education. “I will use this project to take driver training,” says Kandeah. “I want to drive across my beautiful country.” Not for Ebola this time, but for the betterment of his future.

In Sierra Leone, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) recovery plan of 44 million Swiss francs focuses on providing support to people affected by the outbreak, and includes activities related to strengthening resilience to future disease outbreaks, improving access to health care and psychosocial support, improving food security and livelihoods; and National Society development. The recovery plan is currently 1 per cent funded.