So….since the declaration of the State of Emergency, there is a complete ban of all gatherings of more than five people except for going to church, or the mosque or ebola sensitisation meetings. One of the most significant consequences of this, is that schools and colleges cannot open. Even summer school classes were cancelled throughout the summer on pain of arrest for teachers that tried to carry on.
When the outbreak started, it seemed that ebola was a distant, far away thing from the South and East of Sierra Leone. EducAid only operates, for now, in the North and West so by rights we should have all been safe. Quickly though it became clear that this was more than a localised problem and cases were being discovered all over the country. No proper isolation or clamp down was put in place for the first cases and soon nearly all districts were affected. Although, the vast vast majority of the population will never contract the disease, we will all be affected by the consequences of it and in order to keep damage to a minimum, we have to avoid gathering and unnecessary movement.
Our 3000+ young people who should be back in school this week, can’t be. We have only a few dozen on each site, those who did not go for holidays, and they are the only ones who can progress with their studies.
School teachers the world over know how much work they have to do, after a six week summer holiday, to get their pupils back up to speed when school opens in the autumn. Now, in Sierra Leone, we are faced with a likely six months of no school and it may well be more. How devastating to an already terribly weak education system!
EducAid managed to organise a whole staff workshop last week, with police clearance, so that we could a. inform ourselves about the realities of ebola and, indeed, some other common killer illnesses that we are surrounded by and b. to set ourselves personal study targets and to organise teams to work on upgrading our learning materials.
We have decided too, that, if we want to take ourselves as a significant organisation in Sierra Leone, then we need to look at what we can do to help more broadly than just to keep ourselves safe in a corner.
As an organisation, we are not skilled to go and help treat sick people or even to go beyond the basics in terms of sensitisation. What we are good at is delivering high quality education programmes and helping troubled youth to find a home and a family from which basis they can build positive lives. Accordingly, we have decided firstly to propose to the necessary authorities to provide a home for some of the orphans left by parents who have died of ebola, in particular the children of health workers who have died in the front line trying to save others. We are currently in liaison with the authorities in Kailahun to get health clearance certificates for some of these children so we can bring them to live with us. These youngsters have often had to watch helplessly as their parents died in terrible conditions and to add to their pain, they are now being shunned as potential disease carriers. We want to help them be able to rebuild their lives within a loving family. They will also be able to pick up their studies and gain a good education.
Secondly, we are starting to produce educational radio programmes to be broadcast as far and wide as we can make happen. This will enable young people to continue their studies even from home while they are unable to gather for classes. There has been a very positive response from education leaders as well as the commitment from Radio Africell to disseminate the programmes.
In times of crisis, it is horribly dismal to be unable to contribute meaningfully in anyway. We are in the very fortunate position of being able to do something concrete and positive.
I am also in the very fortunate position of being part of a great team of committed and hard-working Sierra Leonean staff who have immediately responded to the opportunity to do something to help.
These are difficult days and Sierra Leone, which suffers daily already from so many traumas: many other killer diseases, poor institutions, corruption and so on, is now once again in the middle of a crisis that will devastate its economy, its education system and more. In EducAid, we are trying to position ourselves to minimise the damage in what ways we can.
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If you would like to know more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young people, please go to www.educaid.org.uk