Business in the Time of Ebola: the Experience of Trainer Emmanuel Gerlin

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 In BTCA, News

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As the WHO says the Ebola outbreak is unparalleled in modern times, and the World Bank says the West African economies could be shattered by the epidemic, this blog series looks at how PCI’s Be the Change Academy participants in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are seeing their lives and livelihoods affected. Help us provide the Ebola prevention materials they need. Thank you.

Emmanuel Gerlin is PCI’s newest BTCA international volunteer trainer. After arriving in Conakry, Guinea earlier this month, he tells us about his experience so far:

Since I joined the BTCA in Guinea one week ago, I’ve realized how difficult it is for the team here to continue working on their mission as Ebola wreaks havoc.

Firstly, daily life has changed a lot for the Guineans because of the Ebola outbreak. In Conakry, people have to wash their hands every time they go to a shop or come back home. They avoid all contact with other people in markets and “shared-taxis”. For this reason, most of the training activities provided by NGOs, various universities and training centers have stopped. Classes have the means to welcome tens of people, but they cannot take the chance that students will bring the terrible disease with them.

However, after taking all the needed precautions to lower the risk of infection, the BTCA team decided to continue working. It is training one hundred women and recruiting all around Conakry.

I am personally touched by this courage. The team knows there is a risk, and they know they can be infected with Ebola anywhere, but they feel they have a mission and need to continue bringing hope to Guinean women.

The team also told me that though this situation is difficult, it was worse last summer when the situation was even more critical and the BTCA had to suddenly stop the trainings. At the same time, the two international volunteers there returned home. It is difficult to imagine how terrible this situation of fear and uncertainty was, but also how courageous it was to decide to set aside fear and take the responsibility to restart the classes – not only because of the risk, but also because of having just minimal staff. One of my local colleagues had to manage six classes of hundred total.

I would like to add one more important thing: if the team is courageous, the trainees are even more so. Most of them made the choice to continue coming to class, taking daily risks to come to the training center and working on their business plans even though their daily life has changed dramatically since Ebola, too. We are proud of them, and their motivation in this particular situation is positively inspiring.

Life is not as easy as it was before. Even today, we read a lot of contradictory information about the current situation in Conakry, and it is difficult to know what the situation will be in one or two months. Regardless, the whole team agrees it is the worst time to stop what we are doing: the people of Guinea need hope to face the current situation and prepare for a post-Ebola world, and working in development means continuing to bring this hope, whatever the situation. The secret of this courage is easy to understand: we believe in our trainees and they believe in us, and this mutual trust is stronger than any fear.


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