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.
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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.