LAS Journal

Encouraging Empathy: Ebola Survival Simulation

Encouraging Empathy: Ebola Survival Simulation

LAS Survival simulation


Do you remember reading about the Ebola epidemic in the news? The virus first arrived in Sierra Leone in 2014, creating a widespread air of panic, infecting 9000 people within its first year. Updates flooded the news, with much of the world watching the epidemic take over. But when you heard about Ebola, how much did you absorb what you read? Did you scale down this mass epidemic and think about what it meant to each individual person in Sierra Leone? About how many families experienced loss and fear?

If you didn't, you're not the only one. 

In the era of mass media, news often focuses on statistics, boiling terrible events down to numbers instead of people. And it's not always easy to empathize with numbers.

At LAS we do our best daily to fulfil the goals of our mission statement: developing and being "innovative, compassionate, responsible citizens of the world." Studies at school often lend themselves to innovation and responsibility; but it can be harder to develop assignments that emphasize compassion. 

Last Monday, though, one of our science teachers, Ms. Passant-Coy, decided to focus on just that. All of our junior students came together to apply science to a real-life scenario. The theme? Surviving on a rubbish dump in Sierra Leone while the country is in an Ebola lockdown. One of the students' main goals was to use their limited time and resources to secure food, water, and hygiene. But more importantly the aim was to build empathy with a group of people who experienced a terrible hardship.

To begin, the students were each given a vial of fluid representing their overall health, with one unknowing group given "infected" vials. Each time students interacted, they were instructed to mix the fluid in their vials together, the end goal being to show them how easily a virus can be transmitted across a population. 

As the day continued, the students used knowledge from their classes and the rubbish science website to develop shelter and contraptions out of items from the "dump". The students excelled, using teamwork, creativity, and know-how to build insect traps, mini greenhouses, water purification systems, sterile hand-washing stations, and more.

While everyone applied their scientific knowledge effectively, only a small percentage left the simulation without having "contracted Ebola" (the photo below shows the small group of survivors on a tarp in the middle). The students walked away from the day with a number of valuable lessons. In the words of Ms. Passant-Coy, "it was a successful day with the aim of 'building empathy amongst people from the richest to the poorest, utilising innovation and problem solving skills to find solutions.'"

To hear more about what the students had to say about the day, continue reading below. Some student reporters selected photos they took during the day and reflected both on what the picture represented to them and what they took away from the overall experience.

"I chose this picture because for me it represents how everyday things that we dispose of can still be made into something magnificent and something that would allow you to actually survive. It illustrates the quote “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and I feel it is powerful because on the whole we don't appreciate the things in life that we have and we don't value the opportunities. It represents for me the struggle that the people in Sierra Leone and all around the world have to go through in order to survive, but the difference is that they have to do it everyday."

"I chose this picture because it resembles the importance of teamwork and how without teamwork it would have been much more difficult to achieve our task. Teamwork is an essential part of human survival, it is putting together efforts and knowledge to accomplish something that otherwise would be impossible or really hard to achieve. I guess the importance of society and everyone's place in it. It represents to me how if we want to help the people in Sierra Leone, we need to work as a team and put together our efforts in order to achieve our goal and really make a difference. “Team work makes the dream work” if we have a dream of saving people, we need to work as a team."

"I chose this picture because for me it represents how many of us are very unaware of what is happening around the world and are very afraid to step out of our comfort bubble. It resembles how many of us are only afraid of what could happen to us, but so not consider what is happening around the world and don't show any concern for it. It represents from this day going forward how we need to have more concern about the world and not just ourselves, because one day that might be us or could have been us and therefore the world needs to help, then first when they need it let's show them our help."

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