Jennifer Artibello and Chad McCordic have firsthand experience combating the deadly Ebola virus sweeping West Africa and stirring anxiety around the globe.

Working from Sierra Leone for OneVillage Partners, a small Minneapolis nonprofit, they’ve watched the virus spread to within walking distance of the six villages they serve.

Many villagers were initially distrustful about taking steps to prevent Ebola, which they believed was the work of evil spirits, they said.

But thanks to ongoing educational campaigns, including OneVillage’s, farmers and villagers have begun to understand the importance of seeking medical help.

“Our message is, ‘Ebola is real,’ ” said McCordic, community projects manager in Sierra Leone. “If you see someone showing symptoms, immediately go to the clinic.”

Ebola, in fact, is so real that McCordic and Artibello recently had to return to Minnesota. Before they left Sierra Leone, however, OneVillage Partners had launched Ebola prevention measures that local staffers are continuing to support, they said.

It distributed chlorine and soap for hand-washing and disinfecting in the households they serve, they said. It created a free Ebola hot line, using the equivalent of a collect phone call.

Staffers worked with villagers to change cultural practices such as handshaking, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in prayer, and burial rituals that could transmit the virus.

Their educational campaign had a cultural twist. They worked with the village town criers to remind residents of precautions they should take.

“When we first started Ebola education, only 20 percent of villagers believed the disease was real,” said Artibello, country program manager. “Now around 90 percent believe in Ebola and are taking steps to protect themselves.’’

OneVillage Partners is a nonprofit built from a project of Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis. It plans to continue its Ebola campaign, even from Minnesota. Go to