18 November 2014 - Christian Aid is distributing essential household items to Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone this week as part of an initiative launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to meet Ebola survivors’ immediate needs and help them rebuild their lives.
David McLachlan-Karr, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sierra Leone, hands over the solidarity kits to Jeanne Kamara, Christian Aid countrymanager for Sierra Leone, at a ceremony at the UNDP headquarters in Freetown. Image: Ross McCarthy
The two organisations have formed a one-off partnership to donate UNDP solidarity kits to 68 Ebola survivor households in the Bo and Western Area districts. These kits contain food, household items and hygiene supplies to enable those discharged from treatment centres to start afresh, after returning to their homes to find all their possessions destroyed.
Nearly 900 people have survived the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, but they are now being stigmatised and treated as outcasts by their communities as fear of the disease grips the country. Those who become infected have their belongings either burned or disinfected with concentrated chlorine, in order to eliminate any risk of transmission of the virus.
Funded by the UNDP, the solidarity kits include foam mattresses, kitchen utensils, crockery, shoes, fabric, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, female sanitary supplies and laundry powder, together with food items such as beans, sugar, oil, powdered milk, baby food and eggs.
Jeanne Kamara, Christian Aid Country Manager for Sierra Leone, said: “Those fortunate enough to have survived the Ebola virus are left with next to nothing. The joy of surviving the devastating virus is quickly overshadowed by the pain of having everything they own destroyed during the decontamination process.
“In addition to losing all their possessions, survivors and their families find themselves facing stigma in their communities and with little means of rebuilding their lives. Those living hand-to-mouth simply cannot afford to replace all their belongings – particularly in homes where the main breadwinner has died from the virus. That’s why Christian Aid is pleased to partner with UNDP on this initiative, so that together we can ensure that Ebola survivors, who have already suffered so much, can start afresh without the added anxiety of having no clothes, bedding, cooking utensils or food.
“By working through our existing structures and local partners in the districts of Bo and the Western Area, these UNDP solidarity kits will reach those who desperately need our support to get back on their feet. Christian Aid plans to replicate and scale up this work using appeal funds, so that we can reach even more people.”
The project is targeting deprived rural communities and the most vulnerable households, including homes with children under-five and homes with pregnant women or lactating mothers.
Saskia Marijnissen, Programme Manager of Energy, Environment and Natural Resources at UNDP Sierra Leone said: “The Ebola crisis is impacting everybody’s lives, in many different ways. Although they beat Ebola and won back their lives, in many cases the survivors have lost their livelihoods.
“UNDP works together with partners who are on the ground, like Christian Aid, to reach out to the people who survived Ebola with some extra support that can help get them back on their feet. We provide tailored kits to help empower survivors and by doing so, we also hope to send a message that survivors should not be stigmatised and excluded – but instead they require extra support and solidarity.”
Where possible, Christian Aid partners and UNDP are working to ensure that they reach all survivors in a particular locality, rather than servicing larger settlements where only a fraction of the target group can be reached.
If you would like to donate to Christian Aid’s Ebola appeal visit www.christianaid.org.uk/ebolacrisis
Ebola survivors’ stories
Interviews by Seray Bangura and Tamba Tengbeh, in Freetown.
‘I felt all hope was lost’
Hawa Bangura, 33, lives in the poor rural neighbourhood of Waterloo – an Ebola hotspot on the edge of Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. She has lost 10 relatives to the virus, including a four-year-old child. Hawa survived it, but has since faced stigma and rejection in her community. She tells her story here:
“Before, I didn’t believe Ebola existed: not because I hadn’t seen anyone infected with the virus, but because I was confused by the different messages coming from different people. I didn’t know who to believe.
“My four-year-old child fell ill with a high fever and few days later I also fell ill with a high fever, headache, body weakness and fatigue. My husband took me to several health centres close by for treatment, but I was rejected by all of them because of my condition.
“Left with no option, my child and I were taken to the Connaught Government Hospital in Freetown. My blood was tested, and without me knowing the result I was transferred by ambulance to the 34 Military Hospital [also in Freetown], where I lost my child. How he was buried, and where, is still a mystery to me.
“One week later, I was transferred again to the Hastings Ebola Treatment Centre. By this time, my condition has worsened. I was vomiting and bleeding everywhere: that was then I realised I was carrying the Ebola virus. I felt like I had just been sentenced to death. I felt all hope was lost.
“I was sad most of the time and could not do anything for myself. Seeing new patients admitted almost every day, people dying, all I could think was: ‘When it will be my turn?’ The world and scientists call it ‘Ebola’; the people in my community named it ‘a killer’; I refer to it as ‘a death sentence’.
“While I was at the treatment centre, my husband was under quarantine. To my great surprise I discovered my nephew in the hospital, also struck down with Ebola, and this caused me more pain. I lost 10 of my relatives to Ebola. However, the healthcare workers who were caring for me were constantly giving me words of encouragement: to be strong, to forget about what had happened to me and to trust in God for my survival. I took their advice.
“After two weeks in the treatment centre, with a series of tests conducted, I was declared Ebola-free! Seeing the doctors and nurses smiling and celebrating my survival brought me so much joy and relief. I love them so much. Two days later I was discharged from the hospital with a certificate confirming my status.
“After surviving the virus, I returned to my community in Waterloo, full of life, energy and new hopes for a better life ahead. But I didn’t realise that my battle continued outside the isolation and treatment centres. I was rejected by my community people, who claimed that I and my nephew escaped from the treatment centre and were still infected with the Ebola virus.
“We were denied the right to pray in at least three mosques; community leaders who should have been protecting us showed no concern. This caused me more pain than I had felt living in the treatment care, where I was shown love by the healthcare workers. It hurts me when my community people stigmatise me: this makes me sad.”
‘My world has fallen apart’
Aminata Fofanah, 25, lived with over 10 members of her family in a two-bedroom house in Freetown’s Waterloo suburb. Her mother became ill, and like many families they initially tried taking care of her at home. Believing that it wasn’t a case of Ebola, all the family members did what they could to support her. Neighbours close by also visited her from time to time.
After approximately two weeks, Aminata’s mother died. The case was reported to the authorities and the house was quarantined. During this quarantine period Aminata lost 17 members of her family, including her husband. She and her two children are the only survivors.
Aminata, like many other Ebola survivors now faces discrimination and stigma in her community: people are afraid of her and have refused to accept her and her children. They have even refused to continue buying goods from her petty trading business.
Aminata is now concerned about how she and her children will survive. “Life has become unbearable for me: no-one to turn to, no-one to support me and no family to depend on. My world has fallen apart,” she said.
‘I want my son back’
Aminata Kanu, 32, lost her husband and 10-year-old daughter to Ebola. “My husband was very sick. He was carried away by some police officers and health workers. Seeing them spraying every area of our home [with disinfectant] and closing every door left me with no hope of returning alive,” she recalls. She was quarantined for over two weeks at the Hastings Treatment Centre in Freetown, with little hope of survival.
Now that she has been discharged from the centre, Aminata is worried about the welfare and whereabouts of her only surviving child, who is eight years old. She asks herself: “Where could he be living? Who would he be living with? Could he be living in the streets or is he dead?”
She has no answers. All she knows, from her neighbours’ accounts, is that a church minister took the boy away, leaving no contact details behind. “I am frustrated because the Ebola disease has brought me untold suffering,” she said. “I have lost my husband, my daughter, and now my only son is missing. I want my son back.”
If you would like further information please contact Tomilola Ajayi on 020 7523 2427. 24-hour press duty phone: 07850 242950. Images available on request.
Notes to editors:
1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
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