In this fifth and final article of the series centered on the necessity and strength of community engagement the focus is on how to sustain community engagement. It is one thing to begin many a good thing and another to sustain it. Decision makers in Liberia, past and present, are known for initiating good programs and policy implementation such as only three persons in the back of a taxi, removing marketers from selling by road sides (sometime literally on the roads), and coming up with new transport fares and threats to enforce them but a few weeks later everything goes back to square one! How then may the essential policy of community engagement and ownership so helpfully tried and proven to be key to the defeat of the Ebola Virus Disease be sustained and promoted throughout the length and breath of this country? Let us explore in brief below. The fourth article on the indispensable roles of influential and opinion leaders of communities observed the following points:
This kind of communication should bring on board everyone in the community. The drawing in of everyone is best done when the influential and opinion leaders of the community catch the vision. They in turn can spread and involve those they influence. Therefore chiefs, zoes, pastors, imams, teachers, leaders of the women, men, and youth, and heads of motorcyclists and wheelbarrow boys associations are to be involved in formulating the vision of whatever the community wants to do and in motivating everyone to come on board.
The chiefs and zoes are the leaders of the people and what they say and do carries a lot of weight. Community members are likely to listen to them more than outsiders. Likewise religious leaders (pastors and imams) wield a lot of influence. Through their preaching, teaching and other forms of ministry (service) they engage members of the community at different levels on daily or at least biweekly basis (most likely on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). Their members believe them and often do what they say and do.
Teachers too influence what their students think and do. The kids listen and trust them more than their parents and others. Motorcyclists, wheelbarrow boys and leaders of the women, men and youths also can influence those who make use of their services. They all are to catch and drive community vision, projects and help solve problems and challenges that inevitably come from time to time. They all must play their parts if the community is to attend to its problems and make progress. They ought to help the community generate its own solutions and drive development. The importance of each one of these opinion leaders must be recognized and tapped into if communities are to see themselves as responsible for their own problems and coming up with visions for its own betterment.
Community engagement is best sustained when it is practiced often and on a regular basis. It must not be a one off undertaking like fighting and defeating Ebola out of Liberia but must be practiced in attending to the numerous challenges that will inevitably come to every community and engaging seriously to overcome them, and in realizing the dreams and aspirations of communities. There is some truth to the common saying, “Practice makes perfect”. Community ownership must become second nature to communities through constant, all inclusive and continuous practice.
Community engagement should be used now in helping communities to get their children vaccinated against measles, polio, and worms. The training of so many community actors (chiefs, teachers, pastors, imams, leaders of youths, women and men) during the Ebola crisis should now be employed to attend to common communal problems.
Many Liberians and foreign observers alike know that Liberia needs a change in mind and attitude if it is to progress and be what it was meant to be, a beckon hope to the rest of Africa. The problems of lack of patriotism, entrepreneurial spirit, negativity towards self and everything Liberian, and repeating terrible mistakes of the past including the most recent of civil war and the Ebola crisis require a fundamental mental and attitudinal change. And such a change can best be achieved through community ownership. When community leaders and opinion leaders catch the vision and engage the communities then the needed change can come about quicker and easier than when it comes from central government down. Community ownership is sustained when it is used as often as possible in different situations of community and national needs and in improving the lot of the community and the nation.