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Ebola, Courage, and Social Responsibility


‘What keeps me coming to work every day is encouragement and motivation from my staff. We share jokes and we laugh. And the patients, because I feel like that could be me or my relatives inside there.  If I don’t come to tend to that person, who will? If everybody is afraid to enter the Ebola unit, who will go? Nobody. And our Liberian sisters and brothers will die.’ ~ Louise Gaye, a nurse in Liberia (ONE, n.d.)

Occasionally, nature and manmade disasters test humanity’s compassion and courage for one another. The earthquakes and tsunami’s that destroyed South East Asia and the coast of Japan, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, and the Tornado that flattened Joplin to name a few. Once more, a deadly infectious disease, Ebola, in West Africa is challenging humanity’s sense of compassion, courage and collaboration. It’s challenging both national and international governments and organizations to work together and provide humanitarian assistance to aggressively contain the spread of the disease, train health professionals, and treat infected people. Due to the collaborative effort, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the three countries severely affected, are showing signs of progress. Nevertheless, the number of people dying continues to increase reaching over 6000 in December. (2014 Ebola, 2014).

Despite the shocking and frightening realities on the frontlines, many dedicated, courageous and compassionate doctors, nurses and other health professionals continue to go to West Africa to volunteer. In other words, no cure, rapid transmission rate, rising death tolls, and broken health system aren’t hindering volunteers from their sense of duty and from their desire to lend their knowledge, expertise, and time. Ebola has no known cure and spreads through direct contact with blood and body fluids of a person infected by and already showing symptoms of Ebola, but not through air, water, food, or mosquitoes.

Stories of Compassion, Courage and Social Responsibility

Dr. Mauricio Ferri and Dr. Catherine Houlihan are among these compassionate and courageous health professionals who applied to volunteer right away when WHO reached out to various medical associations to help with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (World Health Organization, n.d.). Both Ferri who is from Brazil and Houlihan who is from United Kingdom were deployed to work together in Sierra Leone, one of the countries that were severely affected. Although the working conditions that they encountered initially shocked them, they adopted right away. Instead of giving in to fear, they both saw their unique experience as a personal learning opportunity. Volunteer doctors and health professionals like Dr. Mauricio and Dr. Catherine are ideal role models that can inspire social responsibility in students, in addition to behaviors and teachings of school administrators, teachers and other adults.

What is Social Responsibility?

Social responsibility is defined as a sense of duty or obligation to contribute to the greater good, it is a personal value that manifests itself in our beliefs and the way we live with others; it’s a prosocial value orientation, rooted in democratic relationships with others and moral principles of care and justice, that motivates a range of civic actions (Ware-Lake & Syvrsten, 2011).

Why is Social Responsibility Important to Teach?

Teaching students social responsibility is important. Such instruction:

  1. Encourages students to contribute to build stronger relationships and better communities,

  2. Gives students coherence to their personal identity and makes their actions more purposeful,

  3. Offers important insights into how students view themselves in relation to others,

  4. Motivates student’s behaviors that involve helping others,

  5. Provides students with the ability to view the world from multiple vantage points, and

  6. Enables students to formulate personal obligations to exhibit care and justice.

How can Schools Teach Social Responsibility?

Some of the methods that school staff and other adults can use to teach social responsibility to students include:

  1. Modeling prosocial behaviors such as acting in a socially responsible way (recycling),

  2. Modeling democratic practices in classrooms and modeling empathy towards others;

  3. Communicating value socialization message such as discussing the victims perspective; and

  4. Providing opportunities to practice socially responsible behaviors such as volunteering for a cause.

Adults such as teachers, who work with youth can explicitly incorporate a social responsibility lens into classroom interactions, for example, by (1) fostering perspective taking by pointing out others’ needs and feelings, (2) encouraging service experiences and reflection, and (3) respecting youths’ opinions. Indeed, everyday relationships founded on trust, reciprocity, and democratic dialogues are likely to influence children and adolescents’ developmental pathways toward social responsibility (Ware-Lake & Syvrsten, 2011)


2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa- Case Counts. (2014, Dec.). Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (n.d.).Challenges and rewards of working on Ebola outbreak. Retrieved from

ONE. (n.d.) Healthcare workers on the frontline of Ebola: Louise’s story. Retrieved from

Wray-Lake, L., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2011). The developmental roots of social responsibility in childhood and adolescence. In C. A. Flanagan & B. D. Christens (Eds.), Youth civic development: Work at the cutting edge. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 134, 11’“25. Retrieved from

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