Reconciliation through Community Engagement in Liberia for Healthy Life

Sitting around the table with colleagues from the Ministry of Health and the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) to plan a Healthy Life campaign in Liberia to revitalize the health system post-Ebola, little did I know that reconciliation among conflicting parties could be a major factor impacting demand for the utilization of health services.

In my five-plus years of working in the area of conflict transformation, I’ve thought that conflicts that threaten health outcomes as typically those on a larger scale, such as the outbreak of war. After participating in the community engagement exercises of the Healthy Life Campaign, it is obvious that no matter the size and gravity of the conflict, it does affect service delivery.

“Overlooking an individual can bring about the lack of trust,” was a sentiment articulated by a participant during a series of district-level advocacy meetings held in six Liberian counties that brought together key stakeholders from 35 districts as well as health service providers from the various health facilities. Among the stakeholders in these meetings were local community leaders including commissioners, and paramount, clan and general town chiefs.

Three fundamental issues were at the core of the discussions at these advocacy meetings: trust, compassion and partnership. All three have been identified as primary reasons affecting community members seeking health care at the clinics or hospitals in order to stay healthy in households, in communities and in the nation. All of the meetings confirmed that both community and health care providers were locked in a series of conflicts, ultimately resulting from the lack of trust, compassion and partnership.

“Chief, we are sorry, it will not be repeated.”


Handii Officer in Charge at the feet of Fuama Paramount Chief

At the gathering in Salala, Bong County, a local Paramount Chief of Fuama District articulated his lack of trust in the staff at the Handii Community Clinic. Paramount Chief Joseph Tartee recalled how he was ill, unable to walk and made a call to the Fuama District Health Officer to request the Handii Clinic staff come to treat him at home. He added that, to his disappointment, no one came and he said it “makes me not to trust the clinic staff.”

Chief Joseph’s experience was greeted with mixed reaction at the meeting. Was the chief right to sit at home and call the clinic staff to his house? Amidst the discussion that ensued, the Officer-In-Charge at the Handii Clinic rose to her feet and approached Elder Tartee. Riata Valia went on bended knee, speaking out she said; “Chief, we are sorry, it will not be repeated.” Thunderous applause greeted this demonstration of apology to the chief (along with hugging).

Healthy Life billboard in Liberia

Healthy Life billboard

Moving forward, one thing still remains. I’m waiting to see what happens next after the Salala District Advocacy Meeting because as it was said, “some community members don’t like going to the clinic or hospital while the health workers don’t know how to talk to people.” It is that divide that Healthy Life addresses by encouraging compassion and community engagement. The campaign includes radio spots, print materials, billboards, banners, flyers, posters, community murals and the district-level advocacy meetings that ended at least in Salala with an apology and an improved understanding of the adage “there are always two sides to a story.”

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