A Woman for Others on the Frontline of Ebola

A Woman for Others on the Frontline of Ebola  

Carine Libango, Risk Communication and Community Engagement Officer for IOM in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 

 

I have always dreamed about helping people in need and working on solutions to societal problems. I was trained in reproductive health, and at 17 years of age I started working as a volunteer to educate women and girls on the risks of HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortions and sexual exploitation. During this experience, I met 10 young girls who were only children yet forced to be sex workers – they were alone or abandoned and had no other choice. I brought them into my home, despite a lot of criticism from my family, to pull them out of their dire environment until I found a solution. I knocked on all doors and I succeeded in enrolling them back in school. Some of them eventually went to university while others started a family.  

When the Ebola outbreak began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I joined the response, first at the World Health Organization and then at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  

I engage local communities that live in Ebola-affected areas to explain the role of humanitarians and raise awareness about the fight against Ebola. I talk to community leaders to explain the risks of transmission and promote good hygiene to prevent it from spreading.  

Working as a humanitarian means a lot to me. It means helping people in need, and even sacrificing myself to do so. It is a commitment which goes beyond a mere job. Humanitarian principles are derived from core principles and humanist values, which have long guided my work: protection, neutrality, fairness, confidentiality and, most of all a commitment to “do no harm”.  

We are identifying and reducing the potential negative effects of humanitarian interventions in the field. This is very important in the Ebola outbreak, because there is a growing distrust from local populations regarding the humanitarian response to the disease.  

I enjoy communicating with others, investigating and finding solutions for people in need. I like to discuss with affected communities, share their pain and use my skills to help them. I enjoy seeing a change in their perception of humanitarian action, thanks to my outreach. I have succeeded in raising awareness about the danger of Ebola and in driving some behaviour change to limit the transmission of the disease. 

The most challenging part of my job is the insecurity in North-Kivu and Ituri provinces. Some of the affected areas are quite dangerous, because of armed groups. But it does not stop me. On the contrary, I was born to serve people and insecurity does not frighten me. It gives me even more motivation to help people in need.   

As a Congolese woman working in the humanitarian field, I am combatting many stereotypes. Some say I should not work because I am a woman: I should be at home, taking care of my husband and my children. Some say I am not a good mother or a good wife because I prefer working. There are men in my community who are afraid of me, because I know too many things. They call me “Mwasi Mobali”, which in Lingala means “a woman able to do as much as men”.  

In DRC, women still suffer from gender inequality, but I think my attitude is changing people's views on women. Some people from my community are saying that with women like me, they do not need brave men anymore. 

Fighting stereotypes is a daily commitment. Through my knowledge, my skills and my commitment to my work, I demonstrate my ability to work as a woman for others.