23 July 2015
Almost exactly a year ago, we started our Ebola emergency programme in Sierra Leone. We were one of the first agencies to respond, and our work with community mobilisers and the innovative ways we used to get the message out undoubtedly helped save lives. I recently visited the town of Bumpe in Kono district, meeting some of the dedicated and inspiring volunteers who continue to work on the front line of our Ebola response.
Lilian, Kaimuta and Amie are three of the 1,200 volunteers that we trained across Sierra Leone. They took up ActionAid's call for people to be trained about Ebola, and then went door to door raising awareness about the disease and how to prevent its spread. They set up public handwashing points and kept them topped up with chlorinated water.
Importantly, they also took on the responsibility for alerting the authorities about suspected cases. This didn't always make them popular. "People called us gossips and spies" said Lilian. "But we had a job to do. The situation was scary and we had to prevent the worst.”
Stopping the spread of Ebola
The work of the volunteers helped bring the disease under control in Bumpe, which was badly hit in the early days of the epidemic. A single undiagnosed case of a well-loved community figure led to catastrophe when many people became infected during the funeral rites.
Kaimuta understands too well the pain suffered by many families here. He lost his wife to Ebola and is now bringing up their children without a mother. He said: ”We had to bear the sacrifices we made and fight for our nation and our community”.
There are many children here who have lost one or even both parents. Amie is active in the local Mothers’ Club, which has been supported by ActionAid for several years. Listing their names, she spoke movingly about the families where children have been left without parents by the disease. The club is helping them, making sure they're looked after, get to school and have opportunities for fun and games.
The ongoing threat of disease
The community has been free from Ebola for several months now. But the volunteers remain vigilant, knowing the damage a single case can do. Kono district has over 60 informal border crossings with Guinea, where people are still dying of Ebola. One case, if not detected in time, could lead to a whole new outbreak.
The generous efforts of ActionAid supporters who gave to our Ebola appeal last year made sure that our teams had the resources they needed at the time when the threat was greatest. But the need is still there, especially amongst the Ebola orphans who have no one to look after them.
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