THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS: AN OPPORTUNITY AND CHALLENGE (PART FOUR): THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF THE COMMUNITY

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The focus this fourth and concluding article of the series centered on the opportunity and responsibilities of the various stakeholders (the government and its internal partners, the managers of schools, parents/guardians, and the community) ensuring that our schools are reopened in a safe and conducive environment is on the responsibility of the community. How may each community in Liberia that has a school or schools play a key role in making the dream come true of seeing our children back to school free of Ebola? What are its specific roles and tasks? Let us explore a bit below. The third article on the role and responsibility of parents and guardians observed the following points:

The parents/guardians also have their equally important responsibility for the safety of the schools their children attend. One of their primary responsibilities is to make sure that their children are well in health as far as they are able to know. They must look out for any signs of illness such as any prolong high fevers (more than 10 minutes), unnecessary loss of appetite, unusual quietness, and exhibition of any unusual behavior in the child. If any of these signs and others are shown they must keep their child at home or take him/her to a health facility for a medical checkup.

It is the responsibility of the parents/guardians to teach their child to eat safely at school and home by setting positive examples of food hygiene at home and when they take him/her out to eat. They must show him/her where it is safe to get food and handle food safely.

They ought to inculcate in their child frequent hand washings, temperature checks and avoiding physical contacts especially with uncovered parts of the body such as hands and faces. The child must be taught to avoid plays that involve a lot of sweating and touching others. Parents/guardians have to judge whether it is safe for them to send their little children to a daycare or kindergarten school where a whole lot of physical contacts with the child and other children will be required.

If they judge it not safe they may have to wait for a semester or a year before they send them away from home for a longer period. If the parents/guardians play their roles well they make it easy for the schools and the government to operate schools in this Ebola situation.

The community too must be equally involved in ensuring the safety of its school (s). Community leaders and opinion leaders such as traditional leaders (chiefs, women and youth leaders), pastors, imams and teachers must take the lead in mobilizing community support for schools. They must not leave it to the government and schools.

The protocols issued by the government through the ministries of education and health clearly spell out the role of the community. The communities are to be well informed on the protocols, especially on their own responsibilities. Their responsibilities include providing what they can and advocacy. They are to help with, via the PTA, the setting up of safety and health committees in their schools, good food hygiene practices, cleaning of schools, and adequate supply of water (where applicable). Where the government and the schools fall short they must come in and complement by supplying physically what the schools lack and they are able to provide.

Their second primary responsibility is to advocate. What the schools do not have and should have and they the communities cannot provide they must liaise with relevant stakeholders and demand, through responsible dialogues, that those responsible provide them. This means as they drop off their children to school or visit the school (which they are encouraged to do as often as possible) they are to note what is lacking according to the protocols and immediately initiate a dialogue to see how the need can be met. They may do so by speaking directly to school authorities (principals, registrars and teachers) in order to understand (know the facts and realities on the ground) what is at stake. Where this initial effort fails or where they feel unable to initiate a dialogue they may seek the support of others (chiefs, pastors, imams, youth and women leaders) to make it a joint effort.

A combined effort will give it weight and demand the attention of those responsible. In short, the community is a key player in establishing and maintaining safety and hygiene at our schools. The Ebola outbreak in the country has and is teaching us, Liberians, a lot about community engagement and ownership in addressing and overcoming common problems and challenges, and in generating ideas and projects and seeing them through for the improvement of life for all. 

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