In this second article of the series centered on the necessity and strength of community engagement as a means of overcoming common problems and advancing the common good all (the communities and the nation), the main focus is on how to promote community engagement in every part of our society. One of the lessons the Ebola Virus Disease and its devastating effects have on all of society is the crucial role communities themselves can play in resolving communal and national challenges and in promoting the good of all of society. The introductory article to the series made the following observations:
What is community engagement and why is it so important for overcoming common challenges and advancing the betterment of all of society? Community engagement or ownership means the community’s full participation in whatever that affects its wellbeing, good or ill. This requires the involvement of the community in decision making, implementation, evaluating outcomes, and the processes leading to them.
In the past, and this is still the case in some instances, community projects were decided and implemented by central government or local and international NGO’s or missionary interventions far from the people of the community. If, for example, the government or a Church or an NGO felt that a particular community needed a school it decided the venue, what aesthetic style, kind of building materials and under took the entire project and turned it over to the people concerned without their input.
The unfortunate result of this, often, was that community saw whatever was done for it as the donor’s “thing” and therefore looked to that government or institution as the owner responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. If anything went wrong the end users waited on the donor to come and do something about it. A sense of ownership and responsibility was lacking. This promoted the idea of the community waiting for the government or some NGO to come and do something for the people about their needs and challenges. As a result of this state of affair a deep sense of dependency was developed and entrenched over the years.
Community engagement means the community itself initiating and seeing through programs and projects to enable it to overcome problems, and initiate projects and programs to advance its own good causes. It is about making communities realize and take ownership of their own difficulties, strategizing to overcome them and making and implementing things for its own hope and aspirations.
One way communities can remain engaged with their own and national issues is to maintain and build on the gains made with the involvement of the local communities in the fight against the Ebola pandemic. As the disease virus raged on in August, September and October of last year, the government and its local and international partners slowly came to the realization that without the active participation of the communities the needed behavioral changes to stop the spread of the disease would remain incomplete. Hence there was a massive effort from many partners to engage the local communities and get them spread the awareness messages and the needed actions to halt the transmission. This was done through the use of local administrative structure and the huge training of chiefs, religious leaders, teachers, women and youth leaders, and getting many ordinary people at various levels of the community engaged with the process. In no time every local community in Liberia was in action to fight Ebola.
This much training and community involvement should now be used in creative ways to attend to other critical needs of the nation such as keeping our schools and all learning institutions safe and promoting the restoration of basic health services (immunization of our children and building the required confidence in our health system).
Through practical actions from government and others, communities should be taught and shown that the solution of their problems and promoting their own good causes lies in their own hands. Others can help but they must take the lead. Such vital lesson can be conveyed through involving, in a persistent and continuous way, the local communities in planning and implementing program and projects in the areas of health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and inculcating local entrepreneurship. Communities must be consulted and made active partners in every part of the county. They can be active forces for the good of all.