Using solar power to beat Ebola

Publicado: 3 septiembre 2015 14:12 CET

By: Alif Iman Nurlambang, IFRC

Isatu Kamara could not attend the community meeting in her village. The location was not far, just about 400 metres away. But her home was full with the red line. Her family had been quarantined because of Ebola.

Isatu and her family live in Mamusa in Port Loko, a previous hot spot for the deadly virus. A few days earlier, her neighbour had died of Ebola. Isatu and her family had had contact with the neighbour, and, as a result, were told to stay home, along with 15 other families in the village. A total of 134 people were quarantined in their own homes for the next 21 days. “The figure includes 40 students of the local primary and secondary schools,” said Albert Kamara,  Principal of Amazonian Secondary School.

The community meeting was conducted by beneficiary communications volunteers with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society. Attended by 180 people including youth and elders, men, women, village heads, religious leaders, school principals, and the heads of women’s groups, the meeting was to discuss what the community could do to act together to free people from Ebola. Instead of talking at the community members, the Red Cross volunteers asked questions, aiming to give a voice to the people.

“The days of one-way communication have ended,” said Patrick Massaquoi, beneficiary communication manager of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society. “We have heard from communities that local practices such as conducting traditional burials are very important. So now we work with them to find a viable solution that will allow families to grieve their loved ones while at the same time preventing the further spread of Ebola.” 

Before the meeting, Red Cross volunteers visited several villages and, using mobile loudspeakers, announced the event which would also be broadcast on radio.

Radio, a popular medium

Radio is a medium that can reach the most people in Sierra Leone. Statistics indicate that 80 per cent of people across the country have access to one. Television is still a very expensive item, electricity is scarce, and many do not read newspapers because the illiteracy rate is high. But people also need to buy batteries for the radio which creates an additional financial burden for each struggling family. To address this, the Red Cross recently distributed 3,000 radios to various communities in all 14 districts of the country. The radios are solar powered and wind-up. With solar energy abundant in Sierra Leone, like many regions in Africa, it made handing out radios the most sensible option.

Isatu, who did not have a radio, received one from the Red Cross and despite being in quarantine, she sat on the front porch of her house, cranked the radio and listened in on the community meeting.

“When the night comes, we also utilize the radio as a flashlight to look for something in the dark,” said Isatu. Indeed, this tiny radio can also be used to charge mobile phones, although Isatu and her family do not yet have one.

In the neighbouring village of Komrabai, the Red Cross programme was also heard, however, the Red Cross did not have enough radios for everyone, but still wanted to ensure the proper Ebola messages were being heard by all. To cover this gap, volunteers formed groups of listeners in the village while distributing the radios they did have, so that they could be used by more than one family. Now, the villagers regularly listen to the weekly Red Cross talk show and radio drama programmes.

The radios are proving popular and they are being put to good use. On the day of that meeting in Isatu’s village, a listener’s group in the neighbouring community gathered around the chief’s radio. They listened in, and then, as the Red Cross theatre group took the floor to close the meeting, this listener’s group got to their feet, dancing and singing a local song, “Se tama neday til hoo, manie nu bor. - Please come and listen, my people”, feeling engaged and part of the Ebola solution.