The ongoing food crisis, which the United Nations described as the worst humanitarian emergency since World War II, has put Africa front and centre in our newsfeeds.
Unfortunately, it often takes extreme and tragic events for the rest of the world to turn its attention to what is happening in the world’s second-largest continent.
High levels of poverty are still experienced by far too many children and families in a number of African countries. But focusing solely on these problems can lead to outdated stereotypes that all children in Africa are “poor kids” living in traditional huts. This is not an accurate reflection – the reality is far more complex, and far more interesting.
So here are a few facts that might just change the way you think about Africa, and it’s place in our global neighbourhood.
Four out of five people in Africa have a mobile phone
It is a common stereotype that children in Africa have no access to modern technology. That’s not true – currently, around 80% have mobile phones.
In Kenya, the statistics are even higher with nine out of ten people owning a mobile phone. But this is still in stark contrast to the fact that one in two houses does not have adequate sanitation and the average school has only one toilet for every 100 children. This can lead to the outbreak of disease, many of which are particularly deadly for young children.
The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which began in March 2015, was a terrifying time for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 11,000 people died from the virus. While there are still some isolated cases in all three countries, the numbers are much lower than at the peak of the outbreak in August and September 2014. This is thanks, in part, to young volunteers who helped spread the word around their communities about stopping the outbreak.
ChildFund staff in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone trained teens on Ebola prevention, including regular hand washing and avoidance of burial practices that lead to infection, who then took the message to village markets, homes, schools and other places where the public congregates. Although many of the activities started when the infection rates were higher, young volunteers continue to spread the word in their communities.
“We sometimes went over to villages where the degree of reluctance is high, to let them know that Ebola is real,” says Naby, president of a youth club in Guinea. “We showed people how to use hand-washing kits and told them to report any case of illness to the nearest health post, to avoid unsafe contacts and dangerous burial preparations.”
In another ChildFund-supported club, this one based in a Guinean school, about 30 students from grades seven through 10 spent a few days last year receiving training about how the disease is spread. They discussed ways to publicise the prevention techniques, and then set upon their task.
“No room for Ebola here” was the school`s slogan during the outbreak, according to the president of the club (pictured right). “On the top of our priority list was raising awareness among students to wash their hands in a bleach solution and avoid all contact with sick people and dead bodies. We also targeted environmental hygiene. Though people may wash their hands regularly, if the environment is not clean, there is a high risk of being infected.”
In Liberia, ChildFund trained more than 100 youth volunteers in Lofa, where Liberia saw its first cases. Today, they still conduct door-to-door outreach to prevent another epidemic. They often attend local markets to reach people from many towns and villages where they distribute posters and T-shirts with prevention messages and detergent and disinfectants.
According to ChildFund staff members in Liberia, as a result of these awareness campaigns, community members are more aware of how to avoid the virus and are less afraid of reporting possible cases of Ebola.
In Sierra Leone, during the height of the epidemic last year, ChildFund`s local partner organisations saw the need for a door-to-door campaign to inform community members about Ebola. Teens involved in ChildFund`s activities attended training and then went out to their communities armed with signs and megaphones, an action that created much wider awareness of the disease.
In the northern part of the country, youth even assisted in monitoring the border Sierra Leone shares with Guinea, where some infected people were crossing and spreading the disease from one country to the other.
As the young volunteers in all three countries are trusted members of their communities, their voices carried the ring of authority, noted ChildFund International CEO, Anne Goddard, recently.
“Rumours were a serious problem, including the belief that the government was making up the disease and, early on, that thermometers were spreading the virus,” Goddard said. “Youth educators were effective in helping to dispel such rumours.”
Read the story of Facinet, an Ebola survivor who helped ChildFund Guinea raise awareness of Ebola in his community.
ChildFund Australia would like to thank our wonderful supporters who have generously donated to support children orphaned by Ebola through the interim care centres. ChildFund`s care centres in Liberia and Sierra Leone have now closed but ChildFund continues to support these children in the recovery process.