Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Effective Changes from Within - #afterebola Phase 3

West Africa has faced the worst medical crisis of a generation. Sierra Leone, a country devastated by a decade long civil war only 13 years ago, now faces a humanitarian crisis of dreadful proportions.

Ebola has created a divisions within our society: discontent with the domestic and international reaction to the outbreak; stigmatised sufferers and survivors of Ebola; and a general paranoia and fear, have left the once cohesive nation distraught. Several flashes of civil unrest in the capital, Freetown, exemplify this, and reports of communities that strip infant survivor’s care packages before leaving them in the street to starve leave us feeling worried for the health of the country. We are seeing the social fabric of society stretched to a breaking point.

After more than a decade of working in Sierra Leone - a Sierra Leone that has seen so many improvements - we fear that we are returning to the social divisions that brought about the atrocities of the past.

Just as in 1991, and in almost all cases of crisis, the segment of society to suffer the most is the children. Despite the increased levels of aid now flowing in to the country, we are concerned at how the major NGOs and governmental relief funds are proposing to provide support to those that need it the most, the children. Our Country Director, Miriam, writes:

"Many of the major charities will only fund projects that want to prioritise family tracing and reunification. The tragic thing with that is that we have not learned anything from the post war reunification projects. In theory, a child being taken in by aunts and uncles sounds ideal; in practice, any family will take in a child that comes with some Unicef funding (for however long that lasts!) and then, so so often, the child sees none of the support but becomes the family servant / slave. It happened thousands of times over last time and even since. We already have lots of these kinds of cases studying in EducAid.

Our approach is to give the children a family, a home, and an education. We would of course give kids the option of accessing their family if they can be tracked down, but depending on what we found we would probably support a decision to make their new homes with us where they can get schooling and a supportive family environment with access to the family during holidays etc if they want to go."

Our solution is simple. By providing all of the academic, accomodation, and pastoral support that a child could require, we become the platform for children to succeed independently. If the reunification of families is possible, then we will do our all to facilitate this process. However, we are also able to keep a close eye on the risks and benefits of the one most in need, the child. We must reiterate that, unlike many of the major charities that are contributing to the very necessary work being done to combat Ebola, we are a Sierra Leonean organisation. We don’t employ 180 staff in the country to make for good stats, we employ 180 staff in the country because that is where we operate. They will not leave – they are permanent. We are a Sierra Leonean school organisation with international funding. Our staff are able to maintain the close and personal connections to the beneficiaries of our support, rather than opening the opportunity of that support being mismanaged or misused by those in the care of the children. In no way are we criticising the intentions of the major charities, we simply believe that an internal organisation is in a much better position to administrate effective and progressive changes from within.

We have begun our work on phase 3, and it's very exciting. Our next blog post will tell you what we are doing, and how we are already helping those directly affected by this vicious disease.

We are trying to raise £150,000 to secure the future of Sierra Leonean children, and we desperately need your help. Donate to our #afterebola programme now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#afterebola phase 2 - Education by Podcast

At the beginning of this blog, we set out our 3 stage plan to combat the effects of Ebola on our students, staff, and the wider population as a whole. The first of these phases was to implement protocols to protect our sites from any potential Ebola threat. Now deep in to the worst Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen, we are confident that our measures have effectively combatted this threat. We continue to do our utmost to ensure that these standards are upheld by minimising the movement of students and staff to an absolute minimum, with the former group seldom if ever allowed to leave the site other than for emergency medical treatment.

Phase 2 of our on-going Ebola response programme has been in action for a number of months now. This phase was to ensure that those students not living on our sites, and therefore more vulnerable to the chaos of Ebola, to continue their education. What is sometimes difficult to grasp is quite what an impact EducAid has over our students. We are not a traditional school as you, or I, might consider it. We provide stable holistic support and guidance for our students throughout their lives. Life is difficult for young people in Sierra Leone, no matter what their schooling, and for our day students the gulf between school and home can be a tormenting reality. Fortunately, however, we have always provided the stability to helped these vulnerable and disadvantaged children to continue to tow-the-line, and to embody our values and principles.

As the economic situation in Sierra Leone worsens, the struggle for survival – let alone the battle against Ebola – gets more difficult. As the social situation worsens, one which has seen serious civil unrest in Freetown, the concept of education becomes more and more abstract for our estranged students. For a nation that is still healing the wounds of a recent civil war, where schooling is often at an exclusive premium, communities do not have the integral investment in education. Our main fear for these young people is that the more time they spend away from our supportive community, the further they will slump back in to the older principles of a past generation. Not only this, but the disillusion that these students will feel having lost a whole year of their lives to this indiscriminate and alien virus will discourage them from returning to us at EducAid at all.

Our objective was simple, but the route to achieving it has been hard. We wanted to provide free and easy access for our students to continue their education from home so that they could connect with our school, and to continue on their course to graduation. Soon after the Ebola outbreak, we began to record educational classes – more of an educational discussion panel really.

Earlier on this week, I conducted an interview with Emmanuel Bailay to ask him about the project.

1. What is the process of putting the podcasts together?

There are seven people that are involved in the planning of the podcasts. Miriam and six staff who are in charge of recording and editing. Apart from the recording team, there are three teachers who run the discussion; this includes a leading subject teacher along with two other teachers.

We have two different groups for recording, one in Free Town and one up country. For the up country we do recording at Magbeni, Rogbere, Rolal and Matele.

2. How have you found interesting ways to engage students?

We have some interesting ways of engaging students. In the first place, our recording methods whet the appetite of students for our podcasts. Our recordings are not boring because it is more of discussion among subject teachers. For example, for any recording, there is a leading subject teacher who does the explanation, and the two others will ask questions based on the topic, so at the end of the day, students will get a clear understanding of topics in their respective subject areas.

Our podcasts are quite different from the ministry of education. In our podcasts, time is highly considered. For every lesson, we have a maximum of twenty five to thirty minutes presentation because we don’t want it to be boring. The ministry of education have a different method of podcasts. Theirs is more of a teacher led, that is, one individual will talk for an hour or more. Students sometimes lose patience in listening to their programmes because it is boring.

3. How do you distribute the podcasts?

We distribute our podcasts through Bluetooth, Whatsapp, Mobile phones and memory sticks for students to use. Unfortunately we don’t have mp3 players, but we distribute five lessons every week. For now, not all EducAid students are benefiting from the podcasts. The home [boarding] students are benefiting on all EducAid sites and few EducAid students within the community. We are trying our best so that majority of EducAid student’s and people in the community to benefit from it.

Currently we are reaching 215 home students - on all EducAid sites - and more than 100 people in the community.

4. What is the best outcome of the podcasts?

EducAid students are benefiting greatly from the podcasts because it enables them to have access to learning in time of crisis, and this will lead to a less dropout rate because students are always engaged. It enables them to have access to learning during crisis and to do more academic work. Had it not been the podcast, a lot of students would be drop outs because they will not have access to learning. There will also be an increase of unwanted pregnancy.

For now, some people in the wider community are also benefitting, but we are always trying hard to reach more people.

5. Have you had good feedback from the podcast?

Yes we had good feedback from the podcast. People really appreciate it, and they are hoping it will continue until Ebola is over.

We hope that you can appreciate how important this radio programme is to our students. It provides the vital contact to keep them in touch with their school and their friends. One can only imagine how isolated they must feel, constantly in fear of the deadly virus and locked away from their friends.

Emmanuel and his colleagues are doing a fantastic job, but with around 2,650 EducAid students still not receiving any contact from their school we still have a long way to go. We want to ask you to help us; if you could donate whatever you can spare so that we can continue to do the work that we do in Sierra Leone, we would be so grateful. Just know that not a penny of what you donate will be spent on anything other than the students in Sierra Leone, as all of our UK admin costs are covered directly from the pockets of our trustees. 

Link to donate is here: Donate for a life #afterebola

Monday, November 24, 2014

Getting the best from EducAid

We’ve had a few requests from people who wanted to receive inboxed updates from our blog, so we’ve decided to give you a quick guide to keeping up-to-date with our blog and social media.

Sign up to our blog to receive our posts in your inbox

You can do this from any of the pages on our website. At the bottom of each page, you can input your e-mail address in to the box entitled “Our blog”. Upon doing this, you will automatically receive our latest posts in your e-mail account without having to visit the EducAid website.

Alternatively, you can read our posts on our News Page whenever you fancy.

Sign up to our newsletters

We send out 4 regular newsletters per year, giving an overview of EducAid news and events during that period. We will also alert you of particular events that we have going on.

In order to sign up, on every page of our website, you can input your e-mail address in to the box entitled “Our Mailing List”.

Receive all of our facebook updates

At the top of our facebook page, you can choose to receive all of our updates by selecting “Get Notifications” from the dropdown list under the “Liked” button.

Also, don’t forget to follow Miriam on Twitter because that’s where she usually posts the up-to-the minute goings on of EducAid.

Thanks for all of your support. Remember that by liking and sharing our messages helps to spread the word about everything we do and to attract more donors so please do be vocal and active on your social media.

We’re still working towards our ambitious but very necessary target of £150,000 to provide support for those disadvantaged from Ebola, particularly the ever-increasing number of orphans that are coming out of this catastrophe. If you want to know why it’s so necessary, do read our blog where we’re regularly posting information regarding the Ebola situation and what we’re doing to protect our students and staff, as well as what we’re doing to plan for the a life after Ebola.

We hope that we’re bringing you a valuable insight to what is going on in Sierra Leone, so please do keep supporting us online and in donations.

Many thanks

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Living with Ebola: AJ & Kai

AJ (pictured) & Kai are the site coordinators at EducAid Magbeni, one of the EducAid schools in the most hard-hit areas of Sierra Leone, the Port Loko district.

AJ and Kai are responsible for looking after the students and staff at our school, and for ensuring that security, welfare and morale are being kept at a maximum. Despite their busy schedules, they took some time out of their week to respond to my questions and let me know what they think about what is going on in Sierra Leone.

Just to give you a sense of the threat that lies outside of the door in Magbeni, here is a map of Ebola cases published by the CDC on 18th November 2014.

1.     What is the social and political situation in Sierra Leone?

The mood of people in this country is stressful, sorrowful, panic-ridden, and discouraged. People find it very difficult to leaves their homes to go elsewhere because the illness has spread evenly throughout the country.  There are many people waiting for the epidemic to end before regaining back their lives.

The government are doing their best with what is available in the country. At first it was more a case of talking rather than tackling Ebola, which was indeed a problem. The main opposition party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party [SLPP], was using Ebola as a means of setting the ruling party, the All Peoples Congress [APC], against its citizens. This happened especially where the Ebola started in the eastern part of the country, a district called Kailahun.

The civil unrest in Freetown is a product of the heavy sanctions that have been placed upon the people. Freetown for now is not how it used to be before. The social lives of people have been cut off: nightclubs, cinemas, schools, and colleges have all been closed. Because of all these, the life of people in the capital city is very worrisome.

Having said that, the general populace now have a greater confidence in the Ebola treatment centres because of the number of patients that been discharged. The doctors are doing a fantastic job in this fight of Ebola, even though other doctors or health workers have died. But they did not relent at all. The people at first do not believe in their own doctors especially when the medical people were saying that there is no cure for Ebola.

2.    What do you perceive to be the greatest threat to Sierra Leone's recovery from Ebola.

After the ebola we are foreseeing more economic hardship as nothing is currently going on the country rather than the fighting of ebola. There will be a sever lack of medical doctors because the few we have are losing their lives to ebola. Simultaneously, there will be more to care for; more orphans, and the numbers of street children are going to increase. The economic situation, and the disruption in schooling will lead to more drop outs than before, as well as more teenage mothers.

3.    How are the students and staff coping with the events going on outside the schools?

The students are really fighting hard to cope with what is going on; they are missing the interaction with their friends who have not been able to return to the schools due to the dreadful epidemic that is roaming the country. They are now beginning to cope with the situation as we are making them think more about their education, and how we can help the others by being strong. The students are taking unit tests and also work on setting targets for themselves. They also work on literacy and even how to sensitive themselves against the virus – although we don’t ever intend that to be something they have to do at EducAid. It is very difficult for the students to know that their friends and classmates are living in the towns, cities, and countryside exposed to Ebola.

Although situations are very different to normal, staff are really working hard here. We have literacy hours where we teach ourselves with continuous essay writing, and also material making. We read and review books together, and help in the sensitisation of the epidemic and prevention tactics.

4.    How can education help in stopping Ebola?

Education can help greatly in terms of community sensitisation, and to help the country plan best for after Ebola economic hardship. Also, in Africa, diseases can easily spread because people have low knowledge about the diseases, but with education we can make sure to be able to control it quicker in the future. 

5.    What are the biggest challenges that EducAid is facing?

The biggest challenges are:
a)    How we can protect both students and staff for Ebola.
b)    Helping on communities sensitisation.
c)     What we can do to protect the orphans of Ebola
d)    Tutoring our stay-at-home girls and boys without the threat of Ebola, because it is ever more scary!

6.    What do you think is the most important message for us to get out to the people who support EducAid?

The key messages that they most know are:
a)    Learning is still going on with our home boys and girls in all the EducAid sites
b)    There is a radio recording team that is also aiding the teaching of students during Ebola time.
c)     Staff are upgrading the learning materials in all subjects.

We believe that Sierra Leonean Ebola orphans face a situation worse than war, and an article posted by the Guardian agrees.

We are trying to prepare ourselves for the fallout of Ebola. Through our #AfterEbola programme, we are preparing ourselves and our facilities for the huge influx of Ebola orphans that we will need to care for.

Without these facilities, we are likely to lose a whole new generation to psychological and social degradation. The financial situation that is likely to follow Ebola will leave children even more vulnerable and susceptible.

Please keep supporting us in our fight to prevent Ebola, and our plan for the future. Together we can make a difference.

Donate to our campaign #AfterEbola now by clicking on this link.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on facebook, and sign up to our blog on our website – you can find the signup form at the bottom of every page.

We know that Pires’ account of living with the threat of Ebola touched many of you, and to those who donated – thank you so much for your generosity. If you haven’t read the piece, you can do so here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A sobering experience

As the global media attention begins to tire and to sway on to other more sensational stories, it would be easy for the public to think that Ebola situation has gotten better. Let us be clear, it has not.

Have you seen the BBC piece on Kigbal, a small town 4 hours north of Freetown? Ebola has pillaged the town, with over 15% of the adult population dead and many more dying every day, the BBC describes it as the epicentre of a new surge of Ebola infections.

Our country director, Miriam, was in the same area over the weekend and she experienced even more horrific scenes. Over e-mail, Miriam wrote to me about her experience:

The little children that I was talking to today have lost everyone - both parents and often several siblings - and they are watching each other die one by one. Every day, more die. 
Please God; pray that there are some survivors so that we will have a chance to help them. I was talking to them about going to school - what else do you do? What do you say to a kid who is sitting there - maybe about to die - who has, in the last 3 weeks, watched both parents die horribly and then are being kept in the hospital. They are being looked after by Zainab Kamara the 25-year-old woman below, a survivor who has lost her husband and son but who calmly says she is ok now. 
I took some photos of the children and showed them - they were quite excited about that. Then we were talking about them going to school, and I showed them a photo of Kofi and so on. The little girl at the bottom is Adamsay and she is feeling better than she was yesterday - but is she going to live? 
It is really very sobering, Marcus.

One thing that we would like to note, specifically, is that Miriam has been trained in the best methods of avoiding contagion, and is at all times very cautious with her own manner – not getting too close to those clearly or probably infected.

This puts what we are doing in really sharp focus. There is no time left to think about it, we need your action now to help secure the lives and futures of these traumatised children. When those lucky few walk away from this terrible situation, where will they go? They will come to EducAid, where we will have a loving and caring educational and pastoral environment waiting for them.

If you are a regular donor, please think about increasing your donation to help us through this deeply troubling time. We are delivering change for the most vulnerable children on earth right now – please help us.

Help us fight for a life #AfterEbola. Donate here

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Living with Ebola: Abu ‘Pirez’ Kanu

Pirez is a man who has come all the way through the EducAid system, and someone that typifies everything that we stand for. We asked him a few questions to give us an overview of what life is really like on the ground in Sierra Leone, from someone who is fighting the battle every day.

What is the mood like in Sierra Leone?

People are very scared, but they are still trying to go on with their normal lives. This is made very difficult due to the restrictions imposed because of Ebola; some people are trying to work, but many sectors have been closed down. There are both restrictions on certain businesses and markets, but many people are scared to receive people in to their shops for fear of Ebola. The morale in the EducAid schools is cool and calm; people are getting with their normal daily lives, though it is very worrying. It is most scary when there is a potential threatening situation close to us. Ebola affects every single Sierra Leonean; not only does everyone have contact with at least one person who has died or is ill with Ebola, many regions are closed down. This means we all suffer equally.

What do you perceive to be the greatest threat to Sierra Leone's recovery from Ebola.

The economic situation for many families, and the nation as a whole, is a huge threat.  The decline in the economy due to the closure of businesses, and the paralysis of tourism will affect many many families. I am most concerned that this also affects the resources available for the general population for things such such as education and healthcare. There is also a huge worry that Ebola will further damage the relationship of the people in our society. The economy of the nation as a whole has been seriously affected, and people are upset by the our inability to control the virus. We can see by the civil unrest and rioting that has happened already in Freetown that the nation is concerned and, because of this, I am worried that there will be many drop outs, young pregnancies, and unwanted pregnancies. I fear for the children that are not only orphaned by Ebola, but finding another lost generation.

Are people being responsible in Sierra Leone?

There are still traditional healers operating in Sierra Leone. For example, in Mathonkara and Matech, there were chiefs who were taking patients to their house until one day the authorities found dead bodies in their custody. Eventually they were sacked. The government have tried to ban all traditional healers, and I think that the general public are becoming more responsible in terms of taking practical advice on the preventive measures to curtail the spread of the Ebola virus. The advice that we, at EducAid, give is: if a family member is ill, call for the Ebola team or take them for testing or treatment at any hospital. It is also necessary to practice the measures, ABC and AUM.

A: Avoid
B: Body
C: Contact

A: Avoid
U: Unnecessary
M: Movement.

How can education help stopping Ebola?

It helps in all the procedures taken to stop the spread of the disease. It will help the people to understand the truth of the disease since the Ebola virus has a lot of symptoms. Help people to know the preventive measures, and this will help them not to contract the disease. It will also help people to know the need for not touching the dead.

What are the biggest challenges that EducAid is facing?

Getting funds to continue with the running of the EducAid schools. Having the Ministry of Education turn down our broadcasted educational programmes was horrible, as that was something that we had all worked together towards. However, the worst thing is not having most of our students with us because this means that our control over the disease is beyond our control or power.


We believe that ‘Sierra Leonean Ebola orphans face a situation worse than war, and an article posted by the Guardian agrees. We are trying to prepare ourselves for the fallout of Ebola. Through our #AfterEbola programme, we are preparing ourselves and our facilities for the huge influx of Ebola orphans that we will need to care for.

Without these facilities, we are - just as Pirez - likely to lose a whole new generation to psychological and social degradation. The financial situation that is likely to follow Ebola will leave children even more vulnerable and susceptible to the chaos.

Please keep supporting us in our fight to prevent Ebola, and our plan for the future. Together we can make a difference.

Donate to our campaign #AfterEbola now by clicking on the link.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on facebook, and sign up to our blog on our website – you can find the signup form at the bottom of every page.

If you’d like to find out more about Pirez, you can read his story below.

Like many of our alumni, Pirez is a child of war. It is estimated that 320,000 children were orphaned by this terrible and meaningless conflict, many of whom were forced in to warfare, drug use, and abuse at the hands of their elders. Having lost contact with both of his parents during the chaos of the civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002, Abubakarr Kanu, later nicknamed Pirez, found himself living with his step-mother on Karie Street, Port Loko.

Pirez’s existence was a struggle for survival. When he was young, he fought for an education and went through Primary school to sit his National Primary School Examination (NPSE) in 2002. He recognizes the achievement when he describes how difficult the circumstances were.

“Transportation to school was difficult, and I survived by eating gari that I begged from my friends.”

Pirez unfortunately had to give up going to school when the financial constraints just got too bad. Instead, he was forced to wash bikes and vehicles in order to survive. Then, in 2005, he heard about EducAid.

“When I heard about EducAid, a free school, I was glad and I enrolled at the JSS.  I worked hard and sat to the BECE. In 2006, I got promoted to the WASSCE class and successfully sat to the exam and was later retained as a volunteer teacher.”

In 2010-11 academic year Pirez was appointed as a deputy site manager. In the same year he was admitted to study at the Port Loko Teacher Training College on the distance course, and later graduated with a Div. 2 in Commercial Studies.

At the start of the 2013-2014 academic year Pirez was appointed to the role of the Deputy Staff Coordinator for EducAid country-wide. In the same year, I was later appointed as the EducAid 4M schools coordinator in the Tonkolili district, where EducAid has taken responsibility for four new primary schools. This is where he currently serves.

“My pre-EducAid life was very difficult but now things are much better with EducAid.  I am now proud of my life and EducAid in my current life.
Thanks to all those that made it possible for me.”

It is stories like Pirez’s that demonstrate the true power of education, and of EducAid. It is easy to forget how difficult it can be for individuals to reach their potential in Sierra Leone; however, considering the circumstances that Pirez came through – a youth of civil war and poverty – all he needed was the opportunity to flourish, and flourish he did.