Archive | October, 2014

DR Congo – International Day of Rural Women – Sylvie Lokenze

14 Oct

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

To mark and celebrate the International Day of Rural Women Children in Crisis would like to introduce to you one woman who we very much admire. Sylvie Lokenze works for our local partner NGO, Eben-Ezer Ministry International (EMI) in DR Congo.  As Programme Manager of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, Sylvie works hard to give women in remote and rural eastern DR Congo a better life. She is passionately dedicated to ensuring that girls are given the chance to go to school and play a part in improving their region. 

 

(The following is a transcription of a telephone interview recently conducted with Sylvie.)

Tell me a little about you – name, age, family, childhood, studies, work

I am Sylvie Pokeeni Lokenze, 23 years old and firstborn to an un-married couple of a female secondary school student (20) and a teacher (30). They tried to make it work as tradition asked them too, but they didn’t manage. I was born after they separated and lived with my mother’s family until the age of 10. My mother managed to complete her studies after I was born, her family was very proud of her because she was amongst a very small minority of girls who got their secondary school diploma in her village at the time.

I started school in 1995 but the war started very quickly (in 1996) and the security and financial situation of my family deteriorated. My mother therefore decided to take up work as a teacher and eventually taught at my school. I studied more quickly than other children, worked hard at school and everyone said that I took after my mother. I felt loved.

In 2001, my mother remarried and a little later on they moved to a town in North Kivu. I then went to live with my father in Bukavu. On the outskirts of Bukavu there was a technical school, run by the Catholic Church. My father wanted me to go there after primary school. He signed me up but it was a very difficult school and girls were discouraged from attending as there were only technical subjects (mechanics, woodwork, electrical engineering). I managed to finish the 2nd Grade (with difficulty!) after which I was guided to specialise in vehicle mechanics rather than machinery (the latter was my father’s preference).

Sylvie Lokenze

Sylvie Lokenze.

 

Lots of things happened during my 6 years at secondary school. Six years that weren’t really happy, but the worst time was a certain Saturday when I learnt from one of my uncles that my mother was in a very poor state and was waiting for me at my grandma’s. She had come home to give birth to her 3rd child with her husband. The baby wasn’t planned and was born in the same hospital as me. Sadly he died some months later. My mother suffered a lot and at the end she had difficulty in recognising me and my three brothers. At the time of her death I was on a work placement in a garage in Katana village. I was one of the last hear of her death and I arrived 3 days after her funeral in August 2006.

In 2007, my father found another job in Uvira. I stayed with my uncle so I could finish my mechanical studies – I only had one year left. I had work placements in mechanics and I also followed an office management course. I managed to get lots of temporary work at the ICRC (International Red Cross) as their mechanic to earn some money. I started an undergraduate degree in IT Maintenance in Bujumbura. On returning to Uvira, I started working as an IT trainer and got an internship with a microfinance organisation and eventually I became Client Manager. At this time I signed up to an MA in IT and Management – I developed excellent competences in financial and client management.

I then applied to the post of VSLA manager at EMI and I was selected. I was so happy, as this opened the door to my dreams: to work in the development and humanitarian sector, to participate in intercommunity development, to be involved in peaceful resolution and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable, especially Congolese women.

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo.

 

Tell me a little about the Plateau – describe the landscape, the climate, the distances etc

Formed by many magnificent hills and peaks, covered by a carpet of velvet grass and wild flowers – once you have reached the summit, you have the sense that the world has transformed – you breathe a pure and unique air.

Often watered by heavy rains, a gentle and dry wind blows constantly, the Plateau temperatures are much lower than in the lowlands. On the Plateau, everyone knows each other and are incredibly loyal which means that they welcome a stranger as one of their own.

The only thing is that it is an isolated zone, as if cut off from the rest of the country. Its people have little access to humanitarian assistance or to development opportunities.

Dependent on a ‘local’ administration 100km away, the Plateau hardly ever benefits from governmental assistance and is classed as an obscurity by the State. Road access is nigh-on impossible for the majority of the year, and besides, the roads only cover a small part of the Plateau. This has resulted in very slow development and accentuates the physical and ‘emotional’ distances between Plateau and lowland dwellers.

A playground for rebel groups, the Plateau has suffered crises of war and intercommunity cohesion is still fragile and at risk due to interethnic conflict that still exists in this region.

Whilst houses in the same village are physically close, even if socially there is a gap, between villages there are huge distances and you have to walk for hours to reach them.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

 

Tell me a little about the women of the Plateau – their lives, opportunities, challenges and hopes.

Daily life for women on the Plateau is difficult due to the role they play in the household. Domestic chores vary from the easy like washing up to the more complex and arduous such as collecting firewood – and they are not able to complain.

The work in the fields that they do, which is a constant, is the principle means of food survival in the household but their integration into the management of their income is not automatic.

Plateau women are in their majority illiterate and they find themselves excluded from socio-professional development. Even though they have the intellectual capacity and a huge socio-economic potential, they are not included in decision-making which has created an inferiority complex leading them to be unaware of their capacities and strengths.

These women fight for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family but have very few opportunities to reach their goals. They want to have and enjoy their rights, but how to get there? When even the most fundamental of rights, like the right to education and/or male-female equality are a long way from being understood and honoured?

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

Are there tasks that are just for women – which ones and why?

Yes!

For example, rendering the houses, collecting firewood and fetching water, finding food for the family, cooking, washing up, laundering clothes. Making sure the house and children and clean and the hardest of all work – fieldwork (cultivating, seeding, weeding, transporting seeds to and produce from fields…). To the good question ‘why’, perhaps an inappropriate response is ‘because these tasks are deemed to be easy’ – and that in the eyes of men.

We have to compare ‘male’ work such as looking after and milking cows and cutting the grass in the fields before the women come and hoe, plant and weed them.

How is fieldwork? At what age do girls start to work the fields?

Fieldwork requires maximum force, getting up before day breaks, working in cold and wet conditions (many times the ground will be rock hard with frost), sometimes you have to walk for hours simply to reach the fields and harvest, you have to transport the products back home and then on to market which are situated many km apart. In brief, a long-term endeavour that necessitates courage and sacrifice and without which survival on the Plateau would not be possible. Girls from around the age of 10 are expected to help their mothers in the fields. There are many cases where girls will have to work before and after school.

Why should rural women and girls be educated? If they are just going to end up in the fields, what is the point?!

Of course!

Educating girls is just as important as educating boys – it is their right and it gives them the opportunity to participate in the transformation of living conditions; not just for women and girls, but for the whole community which is still a long way from being full of rights and development.

Education opens the doors to success in their own life by diversifying their life choices; spending your whole life in the fields is not a choice for all women, rather an obligatory burden that has been put on their shoulders. Further, the community needs their participation in many other spheres to complement men’s participation; so far, man alone has not managed to get very far with the development of the region.

Through attending school, a woman reinforces her intellectual potential and acquires an additional capacity to reflect, a profound understanding of her rights and responsibilities which allow her to fight for respect and consideration within society.

 

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Associaiton

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Association.

 

Do you think that life on the Plateau is changing? For the good? For the bad?

Yes, I have seen a positive change on the Plateau, even in the short time I have been working there. And I think that a huge amount has changed since Children in Crisis  & EMI started working there.

In effect, the Pamoja (VSLA project – Pamoja means ‘together’) project has given a value to women on the Plateau: Firstly through opening up the possibility for women to lead their groups and secondly giving them the possibility to be a holder of financial capital which is a way to be self-sufficient and to be proud of having a place in society.

Nowadays, a woman can count on her own funds without having to approach her husband for authorisation on how to spend any money coming into the household. She has social assistance from her group if she needs it, hope for her projects and believes in a better future for herself and her household.

What else can I say about the benefits of previous projects? In the past, going to funerals or to the market would mean taking children out of school. Before people didn’t know that they should be sending their girls to school – today it is the opposite. People from different ethnic communities didn’t used to be able to discuss and positively dialogue around differences whereas now they are starting to cohabitate positively…

Generally speaking, life is no longer as it used to be thanks to the effective monitoring of change. Reinforce this change, and the future will be even better.

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot.

 

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

Donate button graphic

UKAID logo

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – Ebola, another setback for people with disability.

13 Oct

Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor.

Joseph Alieu Kamara Founder and Director of Welfare Society for the Disabled (WESOFOD) in Kambia, Sierra Leone talks about how Ebola is especially impacting people with disabilities, making them vulnerable.

We are facing an outbreak of Ebola virus disease which is said to be the most severe reported outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976. In order to curb the spread of this deadly virus, the national government has declared a state of public health emergency. This has greatly affected the normal way of life. People are having to cope with all sorts of changes such as no handshakes, no public gatherings, no social meetings, no travel for people in some parts of the country, and no going to hospitals for usual illness such as malaria or diarrhoea for fear of being diagnosed with or catching Ebola. People are constantly washing their hands, either with ordinary soap and water or, if you can afford it, with chlorine.

Ebola is also hurting the country’s economy in no small measure. Many businesses have closed down, national and international markets have been closed and it has become very difficult for business men to travel. In Kambia district specifically, the international market at Bamoi Luma has been closed. This means that for many in Kambia their main source of income and means of survival has been cut off. Prices of commodities, including food, are rising on a daily basis. Life on the whole has become very miserable for people.  I fear that with Kambia district being one of the poorest and most deprived districts in Sierra Leone, an outbreak will be hard to bear.

 

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD's home for children with Disabilities

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD’s home for children with Disabilities

 

Though every Sierra Leonean is affected in one way or the other, I strongly believe that Sierra Leoneans with disability are the most affected for the simple fact that they have a disability. To name but a few are the following ways the outbreak has affected them:

Increase in discrimination and neglect. Even before the Ebola outbreak, these are challenges faced by people with disability from both the community and family members. This outbreak has made it worse. A lot of people with disability are dependent on others to support their movement and general welfare, especially those who require mobility aids but do not have them. Now, because people are afraid to come into contact with other people, they are no longer willing to help people with disabilities get around. This means people with disabilities are now having to crawl on the floor to get around, they get wounds from falling and crawling and have to suffer the shame of toilet systems that are not disability-friendly. People with disabilities in turn are afraid of asking for support as they do not know the whether the other person may have come into contact with Ebola. Immediate family members are confused and do not know what to do. Some bear the risk, others abandon their vulnerable family members.

Exclusion from relevant decision making processes in the name of state of emergency. In our experience, people with disability have completely been left out in the fight to curb the spread of this deadly virus. For WESOFOD the reality and hard fact is that our effort and strides to contribute to the development of our communities is still not recognized by stakeholders. Despite our contributions in making schools and health centers in Kambia district inclusive, WESOFOD and our disabled members are still left out of important decisions. Because people with disability and their families were not represented in planning meetings on the Ebola response, the awareness raising programs do not target persons with disability and therefore, do not reach them.  For instance, a street rally on Ebola using Okadas (motor bikes) will only reach those who could run to see them pass. A radio awareness raising program will only reach those who could afford a radio. A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall. A holistic and inclusive approach is what will help us contain the spread of this deadly Ebola virus disease in Kambia District and Sierra Leone as a whole.

 

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

 

Closure of schools. There is a very high illiteracy rate amongst persons with disability. A study conducted by WESOFOD and Children in Crisis in 2011 found that 60% of children with disability who were of school going age in Kambia district were not in school. When asked what would help them most, 80% said ‘education’. Since 2011 WESOFOD have been working hard to make education accessible for these children. Now all that has had to stop because schools have been closed. For people with disability, education is the only hope for a brighter future for both the child and parents. We hope children with disabilities are included in any alternative education projects that are planned during this crisis.

High cost of living. Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor. Most struggle to make a living and a good number are living on the street as either street beggars, or prostitutes or both. They are unskilled and the majority are unemployed because throughout their lives they have been denied education and opportunity. The Ebola crisis has made it worse. For those who were working- their businesses are closed. For those who were living on the street they are even more desperate now the country is feeling economic strain. This has further pushed people with disability into poverty and vulnerability.

 

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

 

The right to play is being removed. Play is the order of the day for children. It is what makes them happy. Children with disability are no exception. Due to the Ebola crisis (fear of contracting the disease), parents and caretakers try to restrain their children from play. Children with disability are confined on their wheelchairs and in homes. Children in the neighborhoods are also restricted from play. They miss play and they miss their friends.

Without targeting those most vulnerable you will not be able to ensure everyone is protected from Ebola, which is a risk to containing the disease. We very much strongly believe that a holistic and an inclusive approach is what is needed to curb the spread of this deadly virus disease in our communities and country as a whole.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

Donate button graphic

 

UKAID logo

Debitia Elliott Farley – Liberia – Preparing to Leave

6 Oct

“The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will.”

 

Debitia Eliott Farley is a Programme Manager for FAWE, Children in Crisis’s NGO partner in Liberia. Here Debbie writes as she and her colleagues prepare to travel to help remote communities in Rivercess County as part of Children in Crisis – FAWE’s emergency Ebola response.

Ebola has attacked our nation, its grip has taken firm control on the fibre of our society, killing people and leaving many traumatized. Rivercess, our project county is of no exemption to this epidemic. Officially there has been eight deaths reported in the county. We believe that now is the time to show our support for our target group- the children, the vulnerable women, the teachers, and the larger community that we work with. Despite being an educational NGO, the question on our lips was how can we be of help to these vulnerable people in Rivercess? What is being done to avoid the further spread of the virus in the county? It came as no surprise to us that little had been done in Rivercess in terms of awareness and sensitization, and the provision of anti-Ebola materials; once again Rivercess had not being prioritized. With this we were further convinced that we needed to intervene.  We did not want a repetition of what happened in Lofa County (in Northern part of Liberia, where the Outbreak first started) to repeat itself, where an entire village was wiped out due to the outbreak, because people failed to take the necessary precautions, because people were not informed, because people acted late.

Jarvis loading the vehicle

Jarvis loading the vehicle

We are very passionate about the work we do and the people we work with. All through our work, the passion to help people in these remote and rural areas can be seen. What can one say about a team willing to cross two big rivers in small canoes for 40 minutes and walk for another 30 minutes just to provide water and sanitation services to a community that had never had access to safe drinking water? Or of a team that will cross precarious, narrow and terrible bridges just to provide training to teachers and community women? It is with such same passion that we again, brave the storm and join the fight against this deadly virus. We don’t want any of our beneficiaries to fall prey to this virus, we want to act now, because if we don’t, no one will. The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will. No one was willing to alleviate the problem of children drowning in the Cestos River, on their way to school. Everyone but FAWE-Children in Crisis saw it as impossible to get a school across that River. We want to assure the people of Rivercess that we are in this fight together, and that we care about their wellbeing.

We have targeted 39 communities, and with two teams of three, including two health workers, we will be out in the field, providing sensitization and awareness messages to these communities. We shall spend one day in each community setting up task forces and community hand washing stations, and distributing anti-Ebola materials.

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

We are excited but the excitement is not without mixed feelings. Excited because once again we are reaching out to some of the county’s most marginalized and vulnerable people; excited because we are a part of this fight; excited because together we will overcome this common enemy. However, there are some mixed feelings, mixed because we leave our families and friends behind in the midst of this crisis, trusting that they will be safe in our absence; mixed because most of the time, we will not be able to communicate with our loved ones as we will be in the jungle in areas with no communication network; mixed because unlike other visits to the field, where the team was in the lead, this time the team is lending support to the experts; mixed because even though, the risk of contracting the Ebola virus is low in Rivercess, that thought lingers on…. What if it were to happen? However, in the midst of all this, we are willing to act, to beat the odds, and jump the hurdles. We remain strong and unbended, our drive and force coming from our strength as a team and the fact that many lives will be saved as a result of this intervention. We are not perturbed by the risk involved, instead we are encouraged to move ahead and effect a change. We are committed to this cause, and we will reach out to those communities that others won’t dare or dream of. We will help prevent the spread of Ebola in the country.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

Donate button graphic

UKAID logo

Jean Paul Rubyagiza – DR Congo – Heroes for peace

3 Oct

Those that were killed were travelling on route to the Plateau to undertake humanitarian work with local schools in Itombwe. They had no other task than this.

A posting from Children in Crisis’ partners in DRC, Eben Ezer Ministry International, to mark the three-year memorial of the tragic murder of our friends and colleagues.

By Jean Paul Rubyagiza

Our colleagues who were killed on 4th October 2011 are heroes for peace and sustainable development in the region.

The date of October 4, 2011 remains anchored in all our memories. For staff at Eben Ezer and at Children in Crisis, for the widows and orphans, and friends of those we lost, our memories of the tragedy which occurred that day are still immensely painful.

Those that were killed were travelling on route to the Plateau to undertake humanitarian work with local schools in Itombwe. They had no other task than this. As is well known, the work of Eben Ezer and that of our partners, Children in Crisis, is for all communities without discrimination on any grounds.

As we mark the three year memorial of the tragedy, the victims we commemorate today are:

 

Eraste

Eraste

Eraste Rwatangabo

Head of the Education Program at Eben Ezer, a man of open heart, always happy, a friend of everyone, enterprising, eager to make a positive change in everything he did, committed to contributing to the development of all communities. He gave himself body and soul to fight against all forms of discrimination (ethnic, domestic, family, tribal, gender) and across the different communities of the region. He laid the foundation for a lasting peaceful coexistence in the selection of schools to be built under the education programme, ensuring that they were built in multi-ethnic communities. Unfortunately, he was killed simply because of his membership of the Banyamulenge community. With a BA in History, Eraste was a former history teacher in DR Congo and Burundi (1985-1996), Head of Provincial Division of Primary Secondary and Vocational Education in South Kivu (199-1998), Field Officer at ICRC Bukavu (1998-2004), Head of the Liaison Office in Minembwe for the independent Electoral Commission in DR Congo (2006) and finally, Education Program Manager (2007-2011) at Eben Ezer Ministry International based in Uvira.

 

Tite

Tite

Tite Kandoti Rugama

Team leader within the Education team of Eben Ezer and Children in Crisis, Tite was highly organised, he maintained impeccable records and was very dedicated to his work. He was warmly regarded by principals, teachers, students and parents. It was clear to all that he loved his job very much; and would always go the extra mile, organising additional training sessions during the monitoring visits he undertook of teachers to help them master classroom techniques and teaching concepts they may not have well understood during the residential teacher training.

 

Gifota (in yellow)

Gifota (in yellow) delivering training

Gifota Byondo

With a BA in Biology, Gifota served as a Principal of a Secondary School (1981-1987), a Professor in Burundi (1989-1994), he was in charge of research at ADEPAE Bukavu (1998-2000) and finally trainer of teachers and principals of primary schools across the Plateau territories of Fizi , Uvira and Mwenga with Eben Ezer and Children in Crisis. Gifota always gave his time to patiently guide and advise school principals; he respected and listened to everyone regardless of which community they belonged to, which family or tribe they hailed from.

 

Musore (in red) never let the route defeat him

Musore (in red) never let the route defeat him

Musore Fidele

An exceptionally experienced Driver who could navigate unimaginably bad roads during all seasons. Musore gave himself to his work. He knew that the success of our education programmes depended on his ability to navigate the roads. He never left his work station, always had a smile and regardless of the weather or the lateness of the hour, was always prepared.

Reverend Pastor Ngeremo Amedee

A member of the Board of Eben Ezer, he did theological studies and was a Pastor of the 5th CELPA Church. He was much loved by his parishoners and known for his spirit of non-discrimination and compassion. He was responsible for the ecclesiastical district in the highlands (2006 and 2O11) and member of the Board of Eben Ezer (2000 – 2011).

Opiyo Gitando: stepfather to the driver, Musore, pastoralist.

Nabisage Giselle: a young female student at the start of her academic career.

Two people, Antoine Munyinginya and Mrs Roda were both seriously injured, but survived the attack. It is thanks to specialized treatment and the amazing care given in England by Doctors and Nurses at the Alexandra Hospital that Antoine survived the attack and is well on the road to recovery.

Eben Ezer extends our sincere thanks and immense gratitude to all those who supported us at our time of need. We are thinking in particular of our partners, Children in Crisis and of individuals, James Thomspon, who stood by us. We are thinking of the countless other people, strangers to us, who were touched to help.

 

Our on-going call for Justice:

Despite enduring efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, this has so far eluded us.  Appeals continue to be made with the Military Prosecutor, High Court Prosecutor’s Office, Office of MONUSCO (Human rights and Humanitarian Affairs), National Police and OCHA, among others. We are encouraged by the initiatives of the Military Prosecutor of Uvira, with support from the Office of the United Nations (MONUSCO), to conduct investigations at the site where the attack took place in Kalongwe, although the results of this survey are not yet published.

We urge the Congolese Government to recognise the commendable acts of humanitarian heroes and engage effectively in the search for the perpetrators of this despicable crime. The silence observed from the various State Departments seems to us to dismiss the severity of the crime and feed the culture of impunity.

Within the humanitarian sector, the massacre is regularly discussed. Civil society is in no way divided – the attack that took place on 4 October, 2011 was of innocent people undertaking a humanitarian mission who were killed on the grounds of their ethnicity.

We urge all human rights activists to continue to demand justice, and to follow the logic of Human Rights Watch, who reported the massacre, when demanding that:

“The Congolese government should not use new abuses in the region as an excuse to ignore atrocities elsewhere’’ Bekele, Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

“To ensure that the perpetrators of appalling crimes are brought to justice is a necessary part of broader efforts to end abuses in the troubled region. Although there have been other incidents of ethnic violence in the region, the attack on October 4, 2011 was significant because of the obvious ethnic grounds and the large number of casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

Tragically, our colleagues were victims of this massacre because of their ethnicity, yet they were agents of peace. They walked the mountains in all weathers, across all terrains. They crossed major rivers and swamps, climbed steep mountains, for all children of different tribal communities to live in peace and have access to quality education. They knew education was the key that unlocks the door to a better future for children, the Congolese nation, why not the whole world.

Dare we to suggest that this crime was part of a logic to discourage and halt development across the Plateau Territories of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga, we’d be wrong. This logic will not succeed since the blood of these humanitarian heroes is manure for peace and sustainable development for the country.

 

Click here to learn more about Children in Crisis and Eben Ezer Ministry’s continuing work in DR Congo.

Children in Crisis announces that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

Donate button graphic

Marie Koroma – Sierra Leone – A voice from the lock-down

2 Oct

There was a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety and a remembrance of what it was like during the rebel war. My children don’t know that experience but I do.

My name is Marie Koroma. I work with FAWE-Children in Crisis team in Kambia as a Community Education Support Coordinator. I am a mother of three children; two boys and a girl. I am also the guardian of two children whose own parents cannot afford to look after them.

I want to tell you about my recent experience of a weekend in lockdown during the 3-day national sit at home, employed as part of the Ebola response in Sierra Leone. No one was allowed to leave their house for 3 days while the Ebola Campaign Teams visited houses in an effort to identify cases, spread awareness and get the spread under control.

 

Marie Koroma, Community Education Support Coordinator for FAWE, one of Children in Crisis's partner organisations in Sierra Leone.

Marie Koroma, Community Education Support Coordinator for FAWE, one of Children in Crisis’s partner organisations in Sierra Leone.

 

The three day sit at home came at a bad time – my salary for the month had not yet been paid and because everyone was stocking up on food the cost of commodities was getting too high. A day before the lockdown, I joined the hue of people, mainly women, who went to procure food items at the market. I could afford to buy only a few items as prices of basic food stuff had increased by 50%-100%. Things like rice, fish, palm oil, pepper, onions and spices, to name but a few. The influx of people in market coupled with the hike in the price of food stuffs, made it difficult to buy all that was needed. Lots of food items were in short supply, despite high demand. All in all I was only able to buy enough food to last for two days. Going into a 3-day lockdown with not enough food for my family, and not really knowing if it would only last 3 days was scary.  Access to pure drinking water was a huge challenge during the lockdown as there were no running taps- we had to fetch water from a nearby stream. We never drank from the stream before now.

The sit at home day in day out for three consecutive days was difficult for my family, especially for my children. They cried because they couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed out to play.  I myself found the experience very stressful. There was a feeling of uncertainty, anxiety and a remembrance of what it was like during the rebel war.  My children don’t know that experience but I do. The sit at home brought back the memory of the fear I used to feel. I was feeling sick with it and then even started to worry that I was developing the symptoms of Ebola until I called my elder sister who provided some words of consolation.

At home I listened to the radio since we don’t have access to electricity for television. Every day for the three days I was glued to the radio, listening to messages on prevention and control, and the process and progress of the Ebola house to house campaign. Together with my family we prayed fervently and discussed issues surrounding the epidemic. To overcome the stress, we cleaned the house.

On the second day of the campaign, we were visited by the Ebola Campaign Team comprising of 4 people; a teacher, a health worker, a youth representative and a community volunteer. They talked to us about the disease, how dreadful it is, how to prevent it, how to control it and what can be done in case of any Ebola suspected case in our mist. A lump of Soap, sticker to indicate their visit and a pictorial flier carrying Ebola messages were given to me.

On a personal level I think the three day lock-down will not bring a complete end to the Ebola crisis in the country but I do see it as part of a process to combat the disease.  It comes with a difficult price, but it has helped to expose some of the hidden Ebola cases. More sick people showed up voluntarily and my misunderstandings of the disease were reduced.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

Donate button graphic

UKAID logo