With only four confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, there still seems to be a general sense of panic and fear over the disease. But the reality is that we do have it under control, and the chances of it becoming an epidemic here are incredibly slim. But what about those in West Africa, where the number of infected are in the thousands? In one African country, it is a group of brave girls who are going out to help educate people on the disease and how to protect themselves from it.
In a country like Liberia, where over 6,500 people have been infected with Ebola, spreading the word about detection and prevention is key. Yet it can be difficult in an area where the lack of electricity and clean water is commonplace. Thankfully a UNICEF-sponsored group — one originally formed in 2012 to teach young girls how to protect themselves from sexual violence — has taken up the task. The group of 200 girls, ages 16 to 19, and a handful of teen boys have taken it upon themselves to spread information and awareness to their community in Liberia. In a country with the highest rates of Ebola infections and deaths, this teen education mission might help slow the fast-paced reach of the disease.
Armed with hand sanitizer, protective gear, flip charts and other information, these brave teens head into the streets, going door to door to help educate their neighbors on all things Ebola. Based on their UNICEF-sponsored training, they share information on how Ebola is contracted, how to protect yourself from it and how to recognize the signs of infection. Sixteen-year-old Jessica T. S. Neufville understands the risks of what she is doing but also realizes the importance of helping her community.
Despite their fears, these young girls are heading out to talk to people multiple times a week. Recognizing the important and valuable work being done, UNICEF is taking every safety precaution it can when it comes to these teens. A supervisor has been hired to take the girls’ temperatures every morning before they head out, and they continue to stress safety by reminding the girls to not shake hands, to wash their hands and use the sanitizer and to wear long sleeves, rain boots and raincoats. The risk of Ebola continuing to spread through their country is enough to get them out there, spreading information.
Jessica, who is used to growing up in harsh conditions, realizes the importance of the work she’s doing. In fact, if it wasn’t for her and the other girls, many people in her neighborhood would have no idea about Ebola and how to protect themselves from it. Jessica’s strength comes through in her dedication to working with UNICEF. She says, “I could be afraid, but being afraid would stop me from going out to help these people.”