accessibility & help

Ebola: compassion and resilience

A health officer wears a special uniform to be protected from Ebola virus at a state hospital in Kenema Sierra Leone on August 23 2014

A British nurse flown out from an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone is treated and survives. So does a man from Sierra Leone who walked three miles for treatment at the same centre. 

Explore fear and stigma, kindness and compassion. Begin with some basics about the Ebola virus, and learn how identifying those who are likely to survive is not easy, even for experienced health workers.

Learning objectives

By the end of this activity students will be able to:

  • Identify elements that demonstrate a positive response to adversity, or resilience, in the personal account of a man who survived Ebola
  • Describe an occasion when they themselves, or someone they know, coped better with something than they ever thought they would.

Surviving Ebola

Show students the photograph. What does it show? Invite comments and interpretations. 

A health officer wears a special uniform to be protected from Ebola virus at a state hospital in Kenema Sierra Leone on August 23 2014

It is a photograph of a health officer wearing a special uniform to be protected from the Ebola virus at a state hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone. 

Similar pictures could have been taken in other west African countries, including Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. 

Working as a whole group, or in pairs or smaller groups, ask students to list as many words as they can inspired by the photo. 

Share and discuss the words. Which words occur most often? Look in detail at specific words - such as deadly or fear, kindness or help - and check what students understand by them. 

This photo could be interpreted in many different ways. Encourage students to think about it from the different perspectives of the patient, the health worker, their family and friends, as well as from their own point of view.  

Use the following briefing points to develop students' understanding:

  • There is currently an outbreak of Ebola in west Africa. 
  • It is affecting more people than any previous outbreak.
  • Symptoms of Ebola include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, unexplained bleeding or bruising. 
  • Ebola is caused by a virus which is spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of someone infected, or with objects contaminated with the virus. 
  • People at highest risk of becoming infected are those caring for Ebola patients - healthcare workers, family and friends.
  • Many clinics have very limited resources - inadequate medical supplies and shortage of nursing and medical staff. Some even lack running water. 
  • Ebola has a very high case fatality, but it is not always fatal. Some people do recover, even without expensive treatment.

Ask students to spend a few moments in reflection. With eyes closed, if it helps, think through what it might be like to be in west Africa and develop the symptoms of Ebola. What would be your most powerful emotion? What would you be  most worried about? What might you do next?


Say to students that they are about to see a video, or read a transcript if the video cannot be shown. [Note: the video contains some distressing scenes. Check it is appropriate for your students before you show it to the class.]

In the video Alhassan Kemokai from Sierra Leone talks about his personal experience of the virus. 

Ask students to watch out for things that confirm, or contradict, their earlier thoughts. 

Play the video available on the Guardian website:


Ask students to think back to the words they came up with when they saw the photo of the health worker at the start of the lesson. Now that they have watched the video are there more words they would add to their list?  

Discuss Alhassan's story. What struck students most? Did they realise that people can and do survive Ebola? How would they describe the choices Alhassan made? 

Resilience is a term used to describe the ability to respond well to a stressful or difficult situation. 

What aspects of Alhassan's story show his resilience? What resources did he have within the community to help?

An aid-agency doctor working in a treatment centre says she was humbled by seeing the care provided by family members - and strangers too:

"It is quite something to see older children in the high-risk unit instinctively look after the younger ones even though they’re not related. Being in Sierra Leone has taught me about the human spirit. We’re much more resilient than we think we are." 

Dr Grazia Caleo, quoted in press report

Does that match students' own experience? Have they, or someone they know, ever coped with something much better than they ever thought they would?

Fear, stigma & other responses

Devise tasks or projects - research, writing or discussion - around the following incidents from the video.

"Some come in unconscious, they recover. Some come in strong and they die." 

Explore health workers' response to their patients. How might they feel when someone is cured?

Fear and stigma are a big part of responses to Ebola. How did Alhassan deal with other people's reactions?

Why is the discharge certificate important to Alhassan and other people who have survived Ebola? How might it help in him in his daily life?

Home and abroad

Compare Alhassan's story with William Pooley's, the British nurse who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone. He worked at the centre Alhassan attended. He was airlifted out, and taken to an isolation unit in London. In this video he talks about the compassion and kindness of the staff: 

There's a big contrast in the medical resources available. But note the similarities - their thoughts about their families, and their gratitude to health workers, for instance. 

Invite students to identify and reflect on the similarities. What might it say about our shared humanity? 

Volunteering in an Ebola clinic

Improvise a drama in which a family discusses travel to west Africa to help with the Ebola outbreak. It could make a vivid and thoughtful contribution to an assembly. 

Imagine this scenario: 

A woman who is a doctor in the UK is considering a request from an aid agency. It wants trained medical staff for a four-week assignment in an Ebola clinic in Sierra Leone. One evening she tells her partner and children of her plans. 

Explore the different emotions. How might pride, respect, concern and anxiety express themselves? 

What questions would be raised? Would individuals simply disagree with each other, or work together towards a balanced view?

For background information use the travel advice issued by the UK government.

Groups could also read the job description for such a post, and incorporate it into the drama:


This resource was written by PJ White of alt62 and published in September 2014.

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