Ebola in Liberia: CTV Journalist embarks on trip to see how country rebuilds
What would you pack if you were going on a learning mission to West Africa? For CTV News Reporter Kayla Hounsell, a camera, a portable battery, a great book, and flexibility, she says, topped the list. “This kind of travel requires the ability to adapt and adjust at a moment’s notice.”
In April, Hounsell packed her bags in Halifax and went to Liberia, where she would spend two weeks examining the impact Ebola’s had on the region, and the work that is still being done to fight it. “It’s easy to believe the deadly disease is behind us, but that is not the case for the people of this hardest hit nation,” said Hounsell. “We will be able to show Canadians what is happening now.”
UNICEF’s role in stopping Ebola in Liberia
Since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa started some two years ago, the virus has killed more than 11,000 people, and robbed around 22,000 children of a parent or caregiver. UNICEF played a key role in stopping the spread of the disease through social mobilization and community engagement, provision of hygiene kits and clean water, psychosocial support, and cash transfers and care packages. Today, UNICEF continues to work with international and local partners to build resilience in the affected countries - strengthening health care, education and sanitation systems and humanitarian assistance.
The power of stories: changing the way Canadians think
Hounsell is one of three recipients of an International Development Reporting Fellowship offered by Aga Khan Foundation Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists that encourages journalists to push the boundaries of daily foreign coverage. Hounsell calls it “the opportunity to tell important stories that can change the way Canadians think.”
“I believe our role is to highlight issues, make people aware, and hope that they will take action to create change for themselves. I do think we have a responsibility to improve the state of the world by holding those with authority accountable for their actions,” she added.
Hounsell grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador, where an inspiring teacher encouraged her to make journalism a career. Since then, she has interviewed the likes of Commander Chris Hadfield of International Space Station fame, and traveled to Rwanda and South Sudan.
“It wasn’t until I travelled to Rwanda with one of my professors that I gained a true understanding of what it means to be a journalist,” says Hounsell. “I worked with young Rwandans who had a razor sharp focus of the responsibility afforded to us. They were old enough to have witnessed some of the worst horrors the world has to offer, but they were young enough to believe their stories could change the world. I was inspired by their commitment to make every story count, and I believe that experience shaped the kind of journalist I have become.”
Learning from Liberia’s resilience
In South Sudan, Hounsell saw firsthand the challenges that come with the lack of press freedom.
“Journalists are regularly intimidated, threatened and killed for simply doing their jobs,” she says. “It is important that reporters are able to cover the issues facing the country so that the people of South Sudan can be aware of the issues facing their country and create a dialogue with their government. Press freedom is vital to a free society.”
Hounsell was in Liberia for two weeks, and is now working on a documentary and will be raising awareness over the next year, but she hopes the impact of her work will be long lasting.
Social workers pay regular visits for 3-6 months after reunification.14 yo tells me it makes her "not feel as bad." pic.twitter.com/Z1rx4nND1H— Kayla Hounsell (@KHounsellCTV) May 2, 2016
“I think Canadians will be surprised to see how [Liberia] fights to come back from the rapid loss of 4,800 souls that devastated virtually every sector,” she says. “My hope is that we will learn from their resilience. The world gets a little bit smaller when we understand the daily struggles of those who live in nations not as fortunate as our own.”