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At the recent Women Arise Leadership Conference, Maeghan Orton led participants through an exercise where they discussed local issues that need addressing. Maeghan shared that the real problem is rarely the one we consider first. The real problem is layered beneath other issues, and it takes time to be uncovered. We learned that finding it often takes asking the question, “Why?” five times. 

Applying the Question

Following the conference, I traveled to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to visit colleagues in the two cities of Goma and Kindu. Ebola was at the forefront of conversation. I asked the question, “Why has Ebola not been contained?” I kept asking, “But why?” Here’s what I learned: 

1st Why: People lack knowledge in how to prevent the virus. 

2nd Why: If people have heard how to prevent the virus, they still don’t necessarily trust the information. 

3rd Why: Information largely comes from the government whom they do not necessarily trust. 

“The government hasn’t protected us before, why do they care now?”

4th Why: In rural communities, people put trust in traditional (sometimes called “wish” or “witch”) doctors and religious leaders. 

5th Why: Remedies are accepted from these traditional doctors, but not healthcare workers.

So, how can these deeper causes inform future development?

What If…

  • introducing healthcare workers becomes a longterm primary communications focus? They could provide non-emergency community health gatherings, profiles that highlight caring attitudes and modern health education via locally led, and administrator-trusted, social media groups could provide long-term benefits to multiple disease treatments.
  • interfaith leaders and followers address local health concerns (such as clean water, mosquito prevention, or vaccinations) via regular education and practice? 

Adaptive Solutions Take Time

Neither of these are quick solutions, and they are not the only ones. They will take long-term investment in health and communal wellbeing. 

Preventing Ebola isn’t just a technical problem. It’s not like moving a stone to prevent others from tripping, although there are plenty of technical solutions which are necessary for its containment. It takes time for people to pick up new behaviors. Together, education and experience makes the best long-term difference. Education about healthcare by local people who are trusted within community, plus access to good healthcare experienced on a regular basis, can shift health outcomes.

Working with the Trusted

Gaining trust is hard. Losing it is easy. Religious leaders and traditional doctors can lead people down good or harmful paths based on belief systems and theologies. But when they speak, they ultimately influence untold numbers of people – within congregations, communities, and among those their communities and congregations know. Faith traditions that support science with prayer can help transition distrust into trust. These traditions go on for centuries…they have the time if they have the focus.

Invest in Long-Term Solutions

Harper Hill Global is a bridge between faith communities and secular organizations. We help locally-trusted faith leaders (mostly women) gain access to education, communication strategies, and technologies so voices of healing and hope can be amplified. We are currently working with faith leaders to prevent disease (Ebola, cholera, dysentery) using various forms of media in local languages. We are reaching millions of people through radio and television, and hundreds through SMS and WhatsApp.

This work is largely run by volunteers. Your contribution shows your commitment to global health and wellbeing. Please give financially, and share our posts. Together, we can heal the world.