When Global Minimum launched it’s first Innovation Lab in March 2014 as part of the Innovate Salone program in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the Ebola virus had just broken out. It was worrisome, but Ebola was not a new phenomenon and our team believed it would be short-lived. It’s now November 2014 and the Ebola virus has infected close to 5,000 people across Salone. Our Innovation Lab at the Prince of Wales School has been closed since August 2014, and hundreds of youth we work with are home indefinitely with limited access to educational opportunities and extracurricular activities. The restriction of movement has prompted the government of Sierra Leone to administer a new education initiative focused on Math, Science and English, broadcast over 41 radio stations and the country’s one television channel, five days a week. These efforts are necessary and certainly commendable, but the most effective learning is achieved when it’s a two-way street. In such a strained environment, how can we create interest-driven learning opportunities which fill the void of hands on learning? Moreover, how can we apply these instances of project-based learning to relevant issues so that the youth of Sierra Leone can become civic activists who shape their own national development and society?
In an effort to support the youth of Sierra Leone feel empowered to express their thoughts on the Ebola epidemic and devise creative ways to prevent exposure to the virus, the Innovate Salone team has launched the Hack at Home initiative. Through Facebook and Whatsapp, popular platforms accessible to many Sierra Leoneans, Global Minimum’s Innovate Salone is launching ten design challenges between October 2014 and May 2015. More than half of the challenges are focused on designing solutions related to Ebola and its byproducts, which range from creative campaigns to personal protective equipment to burial rituals and food delivery systems. Youth are encouraged to form teams and “meet up” through the virtual spaces they know best. The Innovate Salone Team facilitates conversations on a number of Hack at Home Whatsapp groups for major cities including Freetown, Bo, Makeni and Kenema. We’ve just completed our first challenge and great ideas have surfaced, but more importantly, the community dialogue, teamwork and authentic inquiry which has emerged are of great more consequence.
The songs, poems, documentary films, t-shirts, mechanical drawings and other pieces youth have produced from reaching for whatever tools are at their disposal, and collaborating with their peers through Facebook and Whatsapp have been remarkable. For youth looking to dive deeper into the issues or for those without access to Facebook or Whatsapp, our team is facilitating “round robbin” calls. Youth have the opportunity to join a conference call with 3 other peers, discuss the challenge and their ideas, and meet potential collaborators. The Hack at Home initiative has engaged over 200 youth so far and demonstrated that even in a strained environment, we can do more.
The acceleration of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has been the result of a lack of adequate treatment on the ground, but it’s also a product of widespread miscommunication, insensitivity toward cultural practices, and a lack of platforms for communities to openly discuss the issues surrounding the Ebola epidemic and how to mitigate its effects. If more Sierra Leonean youth and communities join the conversation, their voices and ideas may just lead the way out of this crisis.