"I cannot abandon my work now." The determination of a Red Cross volunteer to rid Guinea of Ebola, despite being stigmatized

Published: 23 March 2015 6:00 CET

Siaka Tounkara is a long-time volunteer with the Red Cross Society of Guinea. When Ebola came to Guinea, he felt an obligation to join the Safe and Dignified Burial team. Despite being ostracized and discriminated against, Siaka continues to volunteer his time to help rid his country of the deadly disease.

This is his story:

My name is Siaka Tounkara. I am 30 years old and I am the head of disaster management in the district of Nzerekore in southern Guinea. I also work as a physical science teacher at the secondary school in Nzerekore. I joined the Red Cross Society of Guinea in 2009.

Since Ebola spread in our region, we have put all of our efforts into preventing the virus from spreading further. I am in charge of the burial and disinfection teams in Nzerekore. Our work is not easy. With fear, misinformation and denial, our teams are sometimes threatened, attacked or chased by some communities. We continue outreach and community sensitization activities but some people continue to believe that we spread the virus through disinfection. That is why we always need to talk, and talk some more, to sensitize and convince them. There are still a lot of rumours and misconceptions.

We also suffer from stigma. As an example, when my landlord learned I was part of the Ebola response, he evicted me without any notice. He was so aggressive. He threw all my stuff out and I had to find out a place to stay that day to accommodate my family. I was desperate and was even considering giving up my work. Many of my friends and relatives are also shunning us, but what could I do? If I abandon the team, many other volunteers will be discouraged as I have convinced a lot of them to join the Red Cross.

I have Red Cross in my blood so assisting people is natural. I cannot abandon my work now while some of my communities continue to die because of their ignorance. That is why I am resistant to insults and threats.

Two volunteers involved in safe and dignified burials have died from Ebola while trying to prevent others from contracting the virus. They were some of my best friends. That loss marked me and it is where I take my energy to continue to talk to people in order to stem fear and ignorance, as the sacrifice of my friends should be not vain. We have to stop Ebola.