At the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in August 2018, national and international experts were deployed in Beni to tackle the virus. Many of these people quickly started developing the narrative that people in Beni didn’t want to cooperate with the Ebola response.
Bethesda carried out a survey around people’s perception of the Ebola outbreak and, not surprisingly, we found that people in Beni did not trust the Ebola response team. Here’s why: pre-existing social-political challenges.
At the beginning, national and international experts were deployed to Beni to tackle the virus. Many of them quickly developed the narrative that people in Beni didn’t want to cooperate with the Ebola response. Local surveys confirmed that people in Beni did not trust the Ebola response team due to the existing social-political climate. In Beni, almost every family has the story of a loved one being brutally killed or kidnapped by armed militia. Many people living in Beni believe that the leaders have failed to protect them, the government simply hasn’t earned their trust.
“The expert is the community.”
After many people died from the Ebola virus, experts realized they needed to get rid of their approach. They needed to modify their strategy in light of the local community. As Dr. Rachel Sweet, Academy Scholar of International and Area Studies, Harvard University says, “the expert is the community.” The Ebola response teams realized that the community held the power to help them control the outbreak. Today, churches, civil society leaders, and local customary leaders continue to work alongside the response experts.
This local support will make or break communities’ response to COVID-19 as well. Beni is a resilient community. Hundreds of internally displaced families don’t come to Beni and live in refugee camps. Friends and extended family open their homes. Schools and churches open their doors. We don’t count rooms, we count people who need help. The people and place that we’re serving – and the relationships we build with them – are the most powerful force in emergency response.