Volunteers: Key Helpers in the Ebola Response

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a health emergency, many groups and individuals have volunteered to assist in the response, highlighting the importance of volunteers in combating the response.  In Liberia the volunteers, both national and international, are a critical component of efforts to stop the outbreak from spreading further.  In Liberia many communities have volunteers that are doing contact tracing, sharing information on Ebola prevention, keeping the community informed about the status in their communities and linking communities to assistance.

Realizing the fatality rate associated with this disease and the number of infections and deaths among health workers, it is essential that we continue to advocate for and support programs to build the capacity of these volunteers. It is important for us to help these volunteers to keep safe.  In keeping these volunteers safe as they serve it is important to include the following four interventions:

  1. Provide volunteers with proper training. They need correct information on Ebola, what it is (and isn’t), how it is spread, and how to prevent it.  Training must be interactive giving volunteers the opportunity to ask and answer questions, as well as, practice all actions that are essential in preventing Ebola.  More importantly it is essential that volunteers have time in the training to learn how to prevent themselves from getting infected. They need to learn through practice and feedback sharing – learning is truly in the doing! Too often information is not learned because adult learning principles were ignored. This crisis is too important for learning not to happen with volunteers!
  2. Provide volunteers with supplies.  They need proper materials during awareness-raising sessions to deepen the learning for everyone. Learning should not become a guessing game! Some of these materials include: chlorine, Clorox, and buckets. 
  3. Provide volunteers with psychosocial support.  The situation of massive loss of lives and the suddenness of it often causes psychosocial issues. These need to be taken seriously and acted upon instantly.
  4. Encourage volunteers to practice good self-care. This will include tips such as:
  • Be healthy: stay fit, eat well, and limit alcohol, drugs and tobacco intake.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if they feel sick.  Do not self-medicate.
  • Share insights and stories with other volunteers as often as possible. Talk about what you are experiencing.
  • Take time for themselves: sing, dance, exercise, meditate, have fun with friends and laugh. Taking a break from this work is critical for sustainability and personal health.


[Image from Internatinal Business Times]


Marion Subah is a Senior Technical Advisor at Jhpiego and a Certified Dialogue Education Teacher.  You can read more about Marion and her work here.   

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