Ebola: When Culture Confronts Science

Ebola: When Culture Confronts Science

Respect people’s deeply seated cultural beliefs on things like burial during an emergency? Seek to understand and make some accommodation when the family is grief stricken and at their most vulnerable?

I’m posting a link to the second of National Geographic reporter Amy Maxmen’s articles on Ebola, people and culture.  This one gives a good overview of burial practices in Sierra Leone and why people have been so unwilling to give these up.  Even when confronted with the risk of death themselves.

Maxmen reports with both facts and sensitivity. Maybe it takes National Geographic and its long legacy of studying and reporting the world’s cultures to bring this kind of understanding behind the headline news.

Culture confronts Science  “The problem was that the people handling the intervention only looked at this as a health issue; they did not try to understand the cultural aspects of the epidemic.”

from National Geographic - adapting burial practices

from Nat’l Geographic – adapting burial practices. Start with prayers. Use white, the Muslim color of mourning.

Sierra Leone people are deeply spiritual, and there’s different tribes and subcultures. The escalating Ebola crisis was really about confronting cultural beliefs and changing unsafe behaviors. Outside health care and aid workers calling the shots came armed to fight Ebola only with science. There was no time for culture.

Yet for Sierra Leoneans, it was all about culture. With death – unexpected, tragic death – you automatically index to your most fundamental cultural beliefs.

When it became clear Ebola wasn’t ending quickly, respect and cultural accommodation finally came into play. The right things started to happen, and the Ebola epidemic started to decline. Families began to accept burial by strangers who had before seemed like anonymous body snatchers, throwing their loved ones in the back of a truck like trash. People started trusting health services more and calling for help.

Could this whole tragic episode have been shortened and lives saved with a different mindset?  Who knows. Read the whole National Geographic article and decide what you think.


Time to Get Girls Back in School

It’s time to send Sierra Leone girls back to school.  The Ebola crisis has kept schools closed for the 2014-15 school year.  Schools finally re-opened April 15 after being closed for nine long months.

Sherbro Foundation sent over 200 girls to school last academic year with our Girls’ Scholarship program. This year we want to send 300 girls back to school.

The longer kids stay out of school, the less likely they will come back.  Teen-aged girls in particular are a real casualty of the Ebola crisis.  Pregnancy rates have soared to over 30% nationwide  with girls being out of school.  Family incomes plummeted when Ebola forced markets to close and put districts under travel bans. Parents who previously found paying $25 annual school fees a hardship will now have more trouble than ever sending their daughters back to school.

final poster

Sherbro Foundation has been affected by the Ebola crisis, too.  Money we were collecting for our girls scholarship fund went to help Bumpeh Chiefdom fight their battle against Ebola.

We’re proud to have played a role in keeping Ebola out of Bumpeh Chiefdom. But now we have to start again raising money for girls’ scholarships. We want to get girls back in school as soon as they reopen.

The Sierra Leone government is paying school fees this year in a bid to return children to school. But that won’t be enough for most girls from poor families living on $1 a day. Sherbro Foundation scholarships will focus on buying $30 school uniforms that girls will wear for more than a year. We’re starting with girls moving from primary to secondary school

You can make a difference in the life of a Sierra Leone girl.  Send a girl back to school with a uniform for $30.

For the price of a Superbowl pizza, you can send a girl to school.   Please Donate Here.

“Investing in girls education may well be the highest-return investment available to the developing world.”  — the World Bank