We haven’t forgotten

Feb 17, 2015

Our programmes officer, James, shares with us the latest on Ebola and assures us we haven’t forgotten about our partners there.

It’s now been over a year since Ebola first broke out in West Africa, with devastating consequences for the poorest people in the countries most affected. News from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea has dropped off the mainstream news with barely any mentions in the press here in the UK so far this year; so what is the latest, is Ebola now contained? Or has everyone just lost interest?

I’ve been checking with our partners, Craftshare, operating in Bo in central Sierra Leone, and MEWODA, in Bombali in the north of the country, who try to give me an honest, first-hand view of the situation. They agree that new infections are definitely lower than most of 2014 as reported by the WHO, but there’s been a massive spread in the capital Freetown. This means the country overall has had a steady rate of new infections as the population there is so high. The majority of Sierra Leoneans have friends, family or business interests in the capital, so until the infection is brought under control there the rest of country is a long way from safe. Although it is far from over, they think that it’s appropriate at this time to start to think about ‘what happens next?’.

The long term effects of the disease are now becoming apparent right down to the household level. MEWODA reports that over 200 of their beneficiaries in rural villages, mainly women learning improved agricultural and business skills to increase household income, have lost their lives. For those households affected, families have lost not only their mother, sister or daughter, but also, as a result of our work, their main wage earner. For several years now, we’ve been working with MEWODA to improve the standing of women in the traditionally male dominated communities. In doing so, women have increased market access and are less susceptible to rogue traders and buyers who try to under pay. This leads to increased income which allows them to save or support aged relatives or children to have better healthcare and education. At the peak of Ebola, these skills allowed some resistance to the markets closing; now, we believe, for those who have survived they will be lifesavers as the country starts to think about life after Ebola.

International aid efforts have taken a grassroots approach to tackling the spread of Ebola and this approach will need to be continued in the future. Although the implications are not yet understood, we need to hear from communities themselves the biggest challenges and solutions; we believe that rebuilding communities can only be successful by using the same tactics of grassroots level training and understanding, which builds on the work we have already done. Will literacy and numeracy still be key enablers? – almost certainly, but as to exactly how in what is a devastatingly unique environment is still to be established. Our local partners are starting to plan for this stage; never before has the support of Feed the Minds and our partners in the UK been more important to them.