We work closely with our national network of youth volunteers, through which we communicate and empower other youth. We provide them with training on Sextual Reproductive Health, livelihoods, business development, and gender based violence amongst other life issues.
This knowledge then trickles down to the members of the communities where they are deployed to work.
The changing environment resulting from the Ebola outbreak has set new challenges and environment conditions to which we have responded by seeking crisis responsive solutions.
We are strategically shifting our implementation strategy, based on key learnings and concepts identified through our experience on the field. These are directing our shift due to their relevance, efficiency and effectiveness.
In the face of this unprecedented outbreak, there is hope. Communities themselves have the power and the agency to halt the spread of Ebola, and their collective actions are the heart of an effective Ebola response.
The Community-led Ebola Action approach (CLEA) aims to empower communities to conduct their own analysis and take their own action to become Ebola-free. It focuses on triggering collective action by inspiring communities to understand the urgency of the situation and the steps they can take to protect themselves from Ebola.
This is generated through a process led by mobilisers from within and outside the community. Unlike previous mobilisation efforts, which have mainly used health education and one-way communication to raise awareness among individuals, Community-led Ebola Action focuses on the community as a whole and on its collective benefits. Social solidarity, cooperation, and mutual support are vital elements of community life in Sierra Leone, which can and already do contribute positively to Ebola response efforts. As in any society, Sierra Leonean communities will modify norms, beliefs and behaviours in response to the conditions around them. Our mobilisers simply ignite communities to take these necessary steps.
Our Volunteer Peer Educator Programme recruits and trains up to 120 young people each year to spend 8 months working in some of Sierra Leone’s most remote communities. These young leaders become role models in communities where they undertake peer education in schools, work with out-of-school youth through Youth Friendly Resource Centres and Teenage Mother’s Clubs, and organise community events and engagement.
Their focus is on behaviour change activities addressing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) including safe sex, HIV prevention and unwanted teenage pregnancy.
This is coupled with life skills training aimed at improving young people’s self-esteem, confidence, decision-making, negotiation skills and civic participation. The programmes target both in-school and out-of-school youths while engaging adult community members from everywhere around the country such as teachers, religious leaders and health workers to ensure they are supporting young people making the right health and lifestyle choices.
However, since the Ebola outbreak started, it has been a challenge for our Programme to target schools and school-goers. Since June all schools have closed their doors in Sierra Leone to protect children’s health. However, this is an unprecedented situation putting at risk all educational activities and achievements. Our programme has rapidly found a way forward. Since mobility it restricted, the sexual reproductive health programme is investing in the local talent and tapping on community solutions. Volunteers and educators are identified and selected from the communities where the programmes are taking place; the meeting points have now shifted to community youth friendly resource centres.
The Comic Relief Foundation has chosen Restless Development to implement their programmes aiming at behavior change around Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and now also addressing Ebola. Working in the urban slums of Freetown, this project is succeeding in giving hope to youth in the communities and empowering them to tap their real potential as agents of positive change. One of the projects we are currently implementing has adopted a national name: “Pul Slum Pan Pipul”, which suggests that instead of pulling people out of the slums, we should “pull the slum out of the people”.
This project is an Ebola Emergency Response Action, where young people from the slum communities are trained and educated to detect non reported Ebola cases, to do contact tracing of Ebola cases, door to door sensitization as well as linking up with health authorities to refer and report on the Ebola situation. Slum youth have become a reference in their communities through their responsible work with Restless Development. The project is revealing sound results, mostly based on our experienced methods of working hand-in–hand with communities.
Youth are educated in numeracy and literacy trainings and empowered to understand the messages they need to convey to save their communities. Local Authorities are proud of the youth in their communities, and trust the work done by them through Restless Development’s projects. Implementing community youth -led projects is the secret to sustaining the behavior change: community members are teaching their peers, which allows key messages and practices to pass on from individual to individual.
Sierra Leone, with young people being about 55% of the working age population, has an incredible potential and energy to address all those challenges placing the country at the bottom of the human development index. These young people are disproportionately affected by the developmental problems facing the country, and yet they are key to developing ways to tackle the problems experienced by themselves and their communities.
Since 2005, we have succeeded in ensuring that Government, civil society and the private sector recognise the potential of young people in finding solutions to these challenges.
Now, in times of crisis, we are doing what we do best: empowering and mobilising youth to support their communities. We are leading the largest social mobilisation ever in the country, having engaged over 1,500 youth who are currently working jointly with the health authorities to prevent, treat and avoid Ebola Virus Disease. Through our new approach based on the idea that communities must lead their own interventions, actions and solutions, Restless Development has come to be nationally recognised for its effectiveness in communicating life-saving messages whilst empowering local communities to be the agents of the change they deserve.
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