21 and Free campaign seeks to dissolve Ebola stigma
Those who have been potentially exposed to the Ebola virus spend 21 days in quarantine to eliminate the risk of infecting others. If no symptoms show after those three weeks in isolation, the person is free to return to normal life.
But many find that life after quarantine is far from normal.
"People do not want to relate or interact with people who have come from quarantine," Sierra Leone District Superintendent Vidal Cole said. "The victims feel rejected, they feel alone."
Sometimes children who have lost their parents to Ebola are left to fend for themselves.
Nazarene churches in Sierra Leone and Liberia launched the "21 and Free" campaign to help reverse this painful social trend. They are spreading the message that after 21 days in quarantine, a person is not contagious with Ebola and should be welcomed back into the community.
"Think of the stress because of what [survivors] have already gone through," Monrovia District Superintendent Daniel Johnson said. "And now they have returned and nobody will accept them. ... We are doing our best to make sure these people are accepted in our communities."
Nazarene churches in both countries are hosting training seminars to equip church members to spread the "21 and Free" message. In Sierra Leone, Cole said churches are using the slogan of "Fight Ebola. Fight Fear. Stop Stigma."
"I hope to see communities transformed into communities of acceptance," he said.
Clarence Labor, a Nazarene Theological Institute student who was quarantined in December, attended a recent "21 and Free" seminar in Sierra Leone to share with the group firsthand what it's like to be in quarantine, Cole said. Labor talked about the uncertainty, the pain, and the loneliness of quarantine and the rejection that follows. He told the group how much the church's support meant to him.
People in the seminar were moved to tears, Cole said.
"He helped leaders see this 21 and Free seminar as something that must be done," Cole said.
The group also spoke on the phone with Pastor James Fullah of Freetown, who is currently in quarantine with four of his children. Last month, Pastor Fullah lost his wife, Isatu, to Ebola, and his 6-year-old daughter has recently tested positive for the disease at a treatment center, Cole said.
"[Pastor Fullah] encouraged the group that this campaign, [we] must do it, for his sake and other people like him in that condition," Cole said. "And his voice just added more fervor in the seminar."
Those who survive Ebola also face stigma and isolation after returning home from the treatment center, even though they can no longer spread or contract the virus.
Churches are taking what Johnson calls a bold step to welcome survivors back into the church family.
"They show concern and love and care for these people," he said.
How to help
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries is calling on church members around the world to join the campaign's efforts and stand in solidarity with West Africa. On its website, NCM suggests these four ways to get involved:
PRAY. Quarantine lasts 21 days. Pray for those affected for 21 days. Click here for a prayer guide.
GIVE. Use your resources to support the church's efforts to respond to Ebola. Funds given to the Ebola Response Fund will go toward education programs prevention and hygiene supplies, and food and vitamins for people in affected communities.
WEAR. Make and wear a bracelet with 21 beads as a reminder to pray and as a conversation starter.
SHARE. Use your voice to fight the fear and stigma. Mobilize your church, youth group, or small group in making bracelets and praying together.
--Church of the Nazarene Africa Region via Out of Africa