The Toll of Ebola upon Communities

I have just completed a trip to Cote d’Ivoire (near the Liberia and Guinea border) where we showed the Ebola animation to local communities. The film is making an impact on those who watch – touching upon emotions as lessons are taught. It was quite easy to share from phone to phone via Bluetooth, and we distributed flash drives with multiple file resolutions for screening in various forms.

In The United Methodist Church, we continue to reinforce the government’s messages: wash hands, don’t eat bushmeat, don’t touch one another, let only trained professionals bury the dead, seek medical attention upon first signs of Ebola. United Methodist Communications is helping to use a variety of communication methods – print, radio, SMS, etc. Among many, these lessons are being heeded. The presence of handwashing stations is evident upon entry to homes, restaurants, schools, churches. Handwashing is being taught by churches among populations for whom handwashing is foreign. Everyone will be helped beyond Ebola by the lessening of other diseases such as cholera, dysentery, etc.

  • But what about those who do not have ready access to water? For many, water is carried back to villages after long walks. Will they use this precious resource for something that may be seen as a luxury?
  • And where there is no meat alternative, will people simply stop eating bush meat?
  • Touch is part of our essential human experience…how can we simply stop touching one another?

The realities are harsh. I missed hugging people, holding babies, and shaking hands. I can’t imagine letting my family go hungry when there is bush meat readily available. And as someone who regularly enjoys the luxury of running tap water that flows so easily, I admit it would be difficult to pour the water that may be needed for cooking or drinking upon my hands and watch it fall to the earth unusable.

Ebola is hurting more than the body. It strikes at the chord of humanity that seeks to live as one usually does – touching those we care about, eating what one always has, and going about the day in a “normal” way. The role of the church is to continue to speak with an active voice…to amplify the voices of those who are least heard among the often shallow, meaningless voices of the day and to respond with an animated voice…a voice that provides that which has been said is needed. The problems of water access and meat production can be overcome – but it will take a realignment of priorities among many.

One of the last nights in Cote d’Ivoire was spent with Bishop Benjamin Boni taking refreshment in his backyard. We concluded our time together singing, “We Shall Overcome.” This point in time could be used as a catalyst for a better future for all. My prayer is that we will hear the cry and respond as one human family with mighty action. A better day shall come.

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About N. Neelley Hicks

A pioneer in the use of ICTs for global communications, Neelley inspires others through building and teaching solutions that are affordable, appropriate and available within remote settings - particularly in Africa and the Philippines.
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