Meet Jzohn, a local leader in the fight against Ebola
Jzohn was just 28 when Ebola swept through his community.
Jzohn Alexander Nyahn Jr. was just 28 years old and three months into his new role as executive director of Community Health Education and Social Services (CHESS) in Nimba County, Liberia, when Ebola swept through his community.
His response in the coming months, and ongoing commitment to his community’s—and country’s—recovery is an inspiring reminder of why the Ebola Crisis Fund’s strategy of investing in community-based leaders is so important.
We met Jzohn when he wrote an email to the Ebola Crisis Fund requesting funding in the summer of 2014. We asked our contact in Liberia to vet CHESS and meet with Jzohn in person, and within two weeks we had disbursed the requested funds.
Jzohn talking to a family of Ebola survivors | Image by Adrienne Blomberg via Ebola Crisis Fund
CHESS shifted gears immediately when the crisis hit, utilizing their existing infrastructure and volunteer network to deliver door-to-door information and services to help quarantined families, vulnerable communities, and youth and children in particular.
As a local group, staffed by local members of the community, their presence was welcomed and trusted even at the height of fear and distrust in the villages hit most hard by Ebola. Trust is particularly important when delivering psychosocial counseling, which CHESS is committed to delivering on an ongoing basis.
Jzohn’s outstanding leadership in a time of crisis is a testament to his resilience and drive. Born in Monrovia, Liberia just three years before civil war broke out in 1986, he spent 14 years of his early life on the run, seeking asylum in unknown villages, refugee camps, and internally displaced person camps. Jzohn endured more trauma and hardship during those years than many do over a lifetime. Yet on his return to Liberia, Jzohn chose to work with CHESS—a community-based organizations which his father had co-founded—giving back to others in need, counselling others who were suffering in the aftermath of the civil war. Fast forward several years, and Jzohn has won a scholarship to complete a master’s program in Ghana. As he completes his degree and returns to Liberia to pick up his work at CHESS, his father passes away suddenly, and Jzohn finds himself in the role of executive director. Three months later, Ebola struck Nimba County.
As a young person himself, Jzohn especially believes in building youth leadership as an investment in the future. Liberia will continue to struggle in the aftermath of Ebola even after the disease has been stopped. Providing psychosocial support and practical skills-development at the local level for the younger generation will be the key to recovery and sustainable growth. While large-scale relief efforts will play a role in returning economic security and health to Liberia, Jzohn has no doubt about the need for empowerment to also come from the bottom up.
This story was submitted by the Ebola Crisis Fund and Capital for Good