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Ellen applauds community leaders, communities

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says while glowing applauds must go to the country’s courageous doctors, nurses, public health workers and the Incidence Management Team who led the fight against the Ebola virus disease, special commendation must also be given to all the community people across the country who took on the leadership and ownership in the fight against the disease.

“Let me say to all of you how proud we are about this role that you have played that have brought us to this point of progress,” she said, indicating: “We are encouraged by the commitment of this initiative that will take you one step further to support this spirit of volunteerism and selflessness that has characterized the various interventions made by scores of young people to save lives and their livelihoods.”

She made the commendation at the start of a two-day Community Leaders’ Conference under the theme: “Ebola’s Impact on Communities: Learning from Their Experiences to Plan for the Future,” sponsored by IREX, NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE) and United States Aid for International Development (USAID) at the Bella Casa Hotel on Thursday, March 19, 2015.

She also expressed gratitude to USAID and IREX who have joined in fostering Civil Society and Media Leadership program particularly to collaborate with eight local partnership institutions through a series of Community Leaders’ Forums in 60 communities.

President Sirleaf recalled that when the unknown enemy struck, the entire nation was overwhelmed; but the nation’s resilience backed by community ownership, empowerment, political leadership and technical expertise from partners ensured the progress that Liberia currently celebrates.

“To you our communities, you have every reason to take ownership because at the end of the day, the nation and how it goes and succeeds depends upon you. You are the ones that determine the fate of your country,” she pointed out.

The Liberian leader emphasized that she sees this conference as a pace-setter in a long-term agenda to strengthen community structures to enhance the country’s overall development agenda.

She said with the chain of over 100 community leaders in 13 counties, the organizers of this conference have identified several critical gaps in this fight against Ebola and urged IREX to share its findings with government to assist it in its overall planning process.

President Sirleaf expressed her delight that IREX in partnership with USAID is spearheading a Civil Society and Media Leadership Program. “This is a welcome development in our development process especially when the onus is on civil society and the media to lead this initiative and be the pioneers in partnership with the government,” she said.

She urged them to use this experience to enhance the country’s nascent democracy, uplift Liberia and direct energies institutionally at the gains through community leadership and ownership as well as move forward with the country’s development agenda.

Earlier, IREX Chief of Party Bill Burke thanked President Sirleaf for accepting the institution’s invitation to attend the opening of this conference since it was organized in support of the Liberian Government’s desire to strengthen communities who “took responsibility and ownership against the fight against Ebola.”

He said the USAID-funded Civil Society and Media Leadership program implemented by IREX was born out of the desire to sustain Liberia’s hard won peace by strengthening civil society organizations and the independent media. He said the program helps civil society and the media to give citizens a platform to be involved in processes that shape Liberia’s future and to contribute to rapid inclusive, peaceful and sustainable development.

Mr. Burke said as government and its partners focused on containing the virus, they turned their attention to working with communities to sustain the peace amidst the confusion and chaos during the period. 

He said working with eight of their partners, they launched the Community Leaders’ Forum bringing them together to share their concerns and fears as well as talk about non-health impact of the Ebola crisis.

He named the partners as: West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP-Liberia), Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), YMCA of Liberia, Development Education Network-Liberia (DENL), NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE), Center for Media Studies and Peace-building (CEMESP), Liberia Women Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC), and Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA).

The Montserrado Crisis Manager of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Mr. Peter Dalglish speaking briefly on “courage” said the people of Liberia deserve the Nobel Prize for the courage, resilience, determination, and the perseverance they have shown in combatting the deadly Ebola virus disease. 

He said they deserve the Nobel Prize for stopping Ebola dead in its tracks. He said it’s been an extraordinary international effort but in the end it’s the people of Liberia that had made the difference.

The United States Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac praised the efforts of the community leaders who have ensured that Liberia begin the 42-day countdown to be declared Ebola free. She said though the U.S. Government and others provided support to Liberia, they (community leaders) are the ones that made it happen. “It would not have made any difference without all of you, your willingness, your courage, to step up and organize and mobilize the communities,” she told the community leaders.

The two-day conference goal is to facilitate President Sirleaf’s desire to strengthen Liberia’s communities, who took “responsibility, leadership and ownership” in the Ebola crisis by providing them a forum for sharing the knowledge and lessons they learned with all stakeholders.

It intended to give common citizens who took part in the Civil Society and Media Leadership program forums the opportunity to share their experiences on the national stage. In the end, these communities will develop a strategy for grassroots community engagement to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy of the heightened period of the Ebola crisis.

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