In our household, I have done my best to address these issues with our kids with facts, perspective and compassion. And by "these issues", I mean the very real crisis of the Ebola virus in West Africa, and the troubling responses the culture of fear and ignorance engenders.
In an effort to raise daughters confident in themselves and out in the world, I want them to be informed of real dangers they might encounter so that they can feel safe in preventing them. In all honesty, I do not believe Ebola is a danger they need to be prepared for, but in order to ensure they are informed and that they do not succumb to the culture of fear, we discussed the basics of the virus: The symptoms of Ebola, how it is and isn't transmitted (see above), and the precautions taken internationally to ensure the virus does not spread across borders. We discussed the importance of a healthy immune system in fighting off all germs and reiterated the importance of washing our hands regularly. Washington Post has an excellent article with tips on talking to kids about Ebola, and DOGO News has an article written for kids covering the facts about Ebola that might be helpful to look at.
Ignorance about Africa combined with the spreading culture of fear is too often resulting in prejudice, discrimination and violence: needless and alarming in and of themselves, but also detracting time and energy that should be focused on helping those in need. Though the infection rate and death tolls are high in the 3 West African countries affected (Liberia, Sierra Leone & Guinea), these areas have little to no health systems. There have been few other cases outside this zone, with even less fatalities. As noted above, it is very difficult to transmit Ebola, and the international community has been taking necessary steps to stop the spread. I don't dismiss these cases as anything less than tragic, but I can't count them as a global epidemic nor can they excuse base reactions. There have been too many stories of people facing prejudice in its many forms, including insults, taunting, and pressure to leave a premise (or even a job) for having any connection with Africa.
Part of this ignorance seems to stem from a thorough lack of awareness about Africa. It is all too common to lump the African continent as one nation, and as I have noted when we started this year's virtual travel, preconceived notions tend to be reduced to poverty, safari animals, and ceremonial masks. Africa is not a country, it is a large and diverse continent that would fit the United States, Europe, China and India. This reductionist thinking seems to be all the more compounded these days, leading many to reducing Africa in being equated with Ebola. Each of the 54 countries within Africa have their own cultures, strengths and challenges; each are filled with diverse, unique human beings.
Let's diminish our children's ignorance of Africa (and our own). You can find interesting information and child created videos about many of the countries in Africa at Our Africa - seeing the kids in these videos can help build a connection with your kids. Read the book Africa is Not a Country with a map in hand. Learn about Liberia, the country most affected by Ebola, to get a glimpse that any one region and its people are so much more than even their greatest challenge.
And of course, let's encourage our children to treat each other with decency, and to speak up if they see anyone being unfairly treated and stigmatized.
|UK constructing treatment center in Sierra Leone|
Photo Source: DFID-UK
According to Afri-Dev.Info, at the onset of the virus, Sierra Leone with a population of 6 million had 136 doctors, 1017 nurses & midwives, 114 pharmacists.
It is a tragedy that so many are dying of Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone & Guinea. The hardships experienced by all involved - the sick, the bereaved, the communities, the health care workers, the aid workers - are truly unfathomable. My heart breaks at the thought of the many orphaned children and those who have lost family members - often entire families contract the virus. Since March, over 4000 people have died of Ebola. There are not enough resources or health workers, and those that are on the ground are working tirelessly.
To get a better understanding of the difficulties faced by all, without delving deeply into the physical trauma with my daughters, we have read this moving, inspirational and heartbreaking account of a particular doctor's time working in an isolation unit in Guinea. We've also recently started following Katie Meyler on Instagram, founder of More Than Me, an organization based in Liberia that offers free education for girls, whose mission has expanded to help fight Ebola and offer support to those affected. This offers us a snapshot of the lives affected, and help being received, creating a small connection for us.
A question that is often difficult to answer is "how can we help?"
We can help raise awareness by spreading the facts to fight misconceptions and by bringing attention to the need for global support. It is also important to help by way of donations. I am a big believer that every little bit helps, and that the smallest amounts when mobilized by many people makes a great contribution. Various aid organizations are seeking support to stop the spread by providing health care services, medical supplies and educational programs. CNN has an excellent overview of aid organizations that are on the ground and outlines their mandates. Tackle Ebola is a website that highlights specific projects in need of funding going directly to helping this cause. If there is an aid organization you know and trust, share that with others.