Monday, December 29, 2014

Pastor Anthony Kabia: his Ebola story

Anthony Kabia is Pastor in Makalie town in the Tonkolili district. The Tonkolili district is the location of EducAid’s most recent developments in our educational network – the 4Ms schools. Mathele Bana, Mafoimba, Makaragube, and Masorie Kargbo are the result of a partnership with Make It Happen (MIH), where MIH were responsible for building the facilities and some on-going funding, and EducAid provides the academic and holistic education.

So far, the partnership has been a hugely successful one. Make It Happen has built some fantastic facilities and, under the guidance of Miriam, Pires, our Site Coordinator, and his support staff have developed these schools in to thriving centres of education for this underserviced region.

The 4Ms schools accept only day students and thus, due to the Ebola situation, we unfortunately have no students there at the moment. The situation in Tonkolili, like many places in Sierra Leone, is worsening. It sits right in the centre of Sierra Leone and therefore experiences through traffic from the surrounding areas, as well as Guinea and Liberia.

Before Ebola, our partnership with Make It Happen helped to develop the 4Ms in to a fantastic place to learn. Now, unfortunately, they are left with only a few teachers within the buildings. However, this has not seen any drop in productivity for the staff members at the 4Ms schools. The teachers have been getting out to local communities and teaching people how to keep safe from Ebola in these dangerous times. With a widespread Ebola sensitisation programme, EducAid’s influence and support is being felt nationwide.

Pires, someone who we have introduced to you before, has been talking with a local Pastor to see what his experience of Ebola has been. This is his conversation with Pastor Anthony Kabia.

What is your name, and where are you from?
My name is Anthony Kabia, I am from Makeni town, and I live with my Family - my mother, father, wife and children.

Have you lost any family or friends to Ebola?
Yes, I have lost two of my children and my brother’s wife. I was unable to attend any of their funerals, and it made me feel terrible. I feel really unhappy about this.

Were you scared of catching Ebola off these people?
Yes. I was very much scared because I use to visit them before the wife was confirmed Ebola positive. As soon as my children had symptoms, we removed them and sent them to hospital immediately but they did not survive.

How did you avoid catching Ebola? Where did you learn these techniques?
I tried very hard to avoid the disease by following the precautions that were announced from our Ebola sensitization meetings, the media, Ebola posters and other Ebola response team. Mostly by not touching the sick, not washing the dead, and isolating the person being suspected of having Ebola. And the washing of hands using chlorinated water plus other Malaria drugs.

How has EducAid helped you to keep safe?
EducAid has helped me to keep safe through the following ways:
1. The Ebola workshop that EducAid conducted at Port Loko, Rolal in September, 2014.
2. Sensitization meetings held to all the 4M Schools by the EducAid Country Director, Pires and Easy Man.
3. By restricting my movement, learnt from the sensitization meetings we have been getting from the above names mentioned.
We may have learnt with the help of the Sierra Leone Government and other Ebola Response teams, by adhering to their messages, but EducAid is really doing an excellent job in the fight of the disease.

What are the biggest challenges that the country faces regarding Ebola?
The following are the challenges that the Government faces:

1. The qualified Doctors who are capable in combating the virus are dying through the Ebola virus.
2. The country resources are not enough to fight the virus.
3. Disbelief of the people that Ebola does not exist in this country; many are thinking that the Government is making money from the virus.
4. Teenage pregnancy is increasing in the country.
5. No schools are in operations now and that people are taken it as opportunity to bear children.

Pastor Anthony has been taking the information that he has gained from the Ebola sensitisation meetings and has been preaching the message of Ebola to his church congregation, as well as many other communities.

It is worrying to hear that there is still a general feeling that the government is somehow behind the virus. Pastor Anthony says that he is also helping to dispel these rumours through preaching, putting up posters, and handing out flyers to spread the facts about Ebola. Many of these lessons have been learnt from our staff throughout Tonkolili.

Our thoughts are with Pires and his team there – keep it up guys.

Support our fight for a life #AfterEbola by clicking here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas from EducAid

Christmas in Sierra Leone is typically a fun-filled affair. With music, parties, and vibrant atmosphere, the cities, towns and villages are a buzz of excitement. This year was somewhat different; with a strict restriction on public gatherings imposed at the beginning of the Ebola outbreak, it has been a muted festive season.

Just before Christmas the Government of Sierra Leone issued severe warnings against any public gatherings or events over the festive period and New Years Eve. The warnings were issued with a forceful rhetoric and threats of legal consequences for anyone who disobeys. A severe threat for a serious situation.

Fortunately for us our schools are self-contained, and our residents are permanent. We were able to create some wonderful Christmas celebrations, despite all of the horrors going on around us. Miriam said:

“When things are grim and there is such devastation all around, it is wonderful to know that we have so many friends and well-wishers supporting our efforts to protect as many of this country's children from the worst effects of this crisis.

This evening, we have had a little oasis time as we went into serious elf action, preparing 91 Santa socks for early morning delivery.

To all our friends, donors, supporters, we wish you a very Happy Christmas and thank you for all your wonderful support in these difficult times.”

The support that has been shown by all of you, our donors and supporters, has enabled us not only to survive this difficult time, but to prosper. Our schools have continued to deliver a first class study environment to those who are in our schools, whilst our accreditation by the Port Loko District Council this week means that we are able to take in at-risk orphans of Ebola in to quarantine, and integrate them in to our schools. As well as that, we have continued the education of 100s of our students out of school, and to undertake Ebola sensitisations to educate the communities where we work.

The generous contributions from our supporters have come not only in financial support; the logistical support, and much-needed emotional support from different organisations have helped tremendously. Notably the RFA Argus ship, a 100 bed medical support ship sent by the British government, that is currently posted just off shore from Freetown has selected to support EducAid in a charity row.

The row is the brainchild of Petty Officer Diccon Griffith of 820 Naval Air Squadron, who was struck by the plight of youngsters during flights into Port Loko, one of the worst-affected towns in Sierra Leone.

“Each and every face I saw seemed so happy that we were there, many of them quoting the slogan that is seen stickered on many of the UN vehicles out here - togeder, we de fet Ebola – together we will fight Ebola.”

Not only has the ship chosen EducAid to support, but some members of the Argus made a surprise visit to Maronka with nearly 300kg of clothes, toys, and treats. It is these moments of generosity that fill our students with hope for a better life after Ebola. Imagine seeing one of these helicopters with Santa and an Elf jumping out of it to deliver you your Christmas gifts.

To everyone who has helped us in our #AfterEbola programme, and to those who have supported us so ardently over the years to get us to this stage, we say thank you.

Our thoughts are with the students not fortunate enough to be within our school compounds, and are getting through these tough times at home. Our thoughts go out to all of the families and individuals who are suffering under Ebola in the West of Africa. As we identified in a post last week, the accreditation of our Interim Care Centres has marked a turning point in the fight against Ebola. Together, the international and domestic effort will be able to take control of this vicious disease, and soon to overcome it.

Follow the RFA Argus project here, and donate to their fundraising efforts here.

As ever, we need your support. If you can spare some extra money this festive season, there really is no greater cause to which you can send it. Click here to visit our MyDonate page.

Together we are fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A huge step forward: OICCs Operational

“Not everybody who sees this will realise just how hard it might be to secure such a letter.” The letter in question is the Certificate of Authorisation in Port Loko. In this post we’re going to try and give you an insight in to how important this single piece of paper is for our ambitions in combatting Ebola. This letter enables us to do so much of what we have wanted to do, but as yet have not been able to.

As we hope that you’ve gathered by now, we have 3 phases of our Ebola programme:

Phase 1: Ensure security of students and staff on our sites from Ebola.

Phase 2: Continue the education of our students that are on and off site.

Phase 3: Provide for the orphans of Ebola by preparing for their integration in to EducAid schools.

Up until this point, we have not had a single case of Ebola on any of our school sites – by restricting movement to only absolutely necessary travel, and educating our staff and student population for the rare occasions that travel is necessary, we have achieved this feat. This is an on-going phase, and will not be complete until Ebola is eradicated from Sierra Leone in totality. Phase 2 is in full swing. We are recording lessons on to mp3 players, distributing the lessons by WhatsApp, Bluetooth, and any other means possible. We estimate that we’re reaching over 100 students per week, and many others that are not formally part of our network. Phase 3 is now beginning to get in to swing, and the letter mentioned at the top of this post is essential to enabling us to effect real change on the ground.

That letter means that we are able to fully open our Interim Care Centre (ICC) for low-risk orphans, and Observational interim Care Centre (OICC) for at-risk orphans. Here is a brief overview of what each centre will do:

Observational Interim Care Centre – Rolal

The OICC will be taking in the at-risk orphans of Ebola. Up to 24 children needing close medical observation will be accommodated in the smallest groups possible, for example 8 groups of 3. Medical observation will include temperature checking every 3 hours and close observation for any other symptoms. If spotted, an immediate isolation can be achieved and the children will be taken for treatment, maximising their chances of survival. The small groups mean that if one student is diagnosed with Ebola, we do not have to hold back the entire group for a further 21 days – only the children within the same group need to re-start their quarantine period.

EducAid Rolal has isolated one school building and freed up a 10 room staff quarters block for an OICC. A new latrine has been constructed so that the OICC will be self-contained, and some minor adjustments have been made to doors and windows to ensure it’s security.

As soon as children have cleared 21 days, they will be free to go to another home and restart life. Some may want to go back to their communities if they are confident that they will be cared for well there. Some, knowing the poverty in their families, will prefer to stay in EducAid and go to school and make their home with us, only visiting the family periodically.

The centre will be staffed by trained survivors including some nurses. Our newly recruited ‘survivor’ staff were being trained by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) last week and have been operating since Monday.

We anticipate being able to help at least 30 children a month to re-enter society safely.

Interim Care Centre – Maronka

In addition to the Observation ICC for high-risk cases, we have been running an ICC for low risk but vulnerable children. These might be children who have no carer since their parents died. They may well have already been through quarantine and have in any case not had recent contact with any Ebola sufferer.

There will be far less need for medical observation but temperatures will be checked each day. The children will mingle more normally but stay away from the rest of the village and school until they have cleared 21 days without symptoms, at which point they will be free to join one of the EducAid schools.

Maronka has a teacher training centre that is far away from the rest of the school and has been fenced off. There are latrines on site and water will be brought to the centre by the school community.

We expect to be able to bring at least 25 children in every 21 days. There are currently 29 residents and as some leave others will come. 10 came in yesterday from a community that lost 82 people to Ebola a few months ago.


Neither of these projects would have been possible without the authorisation of the local authorities, so we are hugely thankful to everyone that has made it possible for us to achieve this. We know that we are in a great position to cut out Ebola from the very earliest stage, reducing each sufferer’s impact to the bare minimum. With a coordinated local approach to the fight on Ebola, we are sure that we can get it done.

As you can imagine we are severely in need of financial support. All of our programmes are draining the resources of the charity and without the appropriate funding in place our effectiveness will be reduced.

Please consider increasing your direct debit this Christmas, or giving a one off donation.

We are fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Living with Ebola: Sillah Sesay

Sillah, sitting in the middle, with two of his new EducAid friends. He is 14 years old and attended Christ The King School in Bo before Ebola struck.

At the beginning of the summer holidays, Sillah travelled from his school in Bo to Moyamba Junction, about an hour and a half journey South East by road. Sillah made the journey so that he could spend the summer holidays with his family. 

Unfortunately, his pleasant family summer was not to be. When the 3 day lockdown was declared, his father, a pharmacist who used to pay for his schooling, was asked to be a volunteer for sensitisation. On arriving at the care centre, however, it was clear that there were insufficient people for the burial teams, and he was asked to join. With the will to help in any way that he could, Sillah’s father joined the team, and was tasked with the most dangerous job of collecting and carrying the bodies from their final resting place to the grave. Typical of the early-response health services, he was not provided with adequate training or the proper protection. A couple of days later he got ill.

Sillah took his father to the hospital, and 2 days later the rest of his family were all quarantined: his mother, 3 sisters (1 yr 7 months, 10 yrs, and 16 yrs old) and 1 brother (12 yrs old). On the 17th day of their 21 day quarantine, the whole family fell ill and were taken to the hospital. The Sesay family were crowded in to an overfilled care centre, and only Sillah and his mother managed to survive.

On being released from the hospital, Sillah spoke with a journalist at Moyamba Junction and expressed his worries about not being able to afford to continue his education. This journalist suggested that he should get in touch with EducAid, and pointed him in the right direction.

We welcomed Sillah in to our home 2 weeks ago. He is still very emotional; the pain of losing parents and siblings in such a quick succession must be a terrible thing, but he is settling in well and getting on with his studies.

Miriam notes that “he is generally amazingly cheerful and has thrown himself into being part of things: football, wood collecting, learning, cooking, whatever it is. His maths had been rather neglected in his previous school, but he is tackling it well now. He has a quiet confidence. He will do well”

And we hope all the best will come to Sillah. We feel fortunate to be able to provide an education and a home for these children.

Those of you that have visited our schools in Sierra Leone will know how tight-knit our communities are, and how much love there is to go around. That is one of the unique things about EducAid: we provide an education and a home.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Living with Ebola: Mohamed Anthony Kamara

 Mohamed Anthony Kamara, and ex-EducAid student and current EducAid staff.

Last week I was speaking with one of the site coordinators, Alhaji Kamara, better know to those in EducAid as AA. I asked him whether there were many Ebola survivors close to the EducAid compound, and if there were any that he thought would be comfortable to speak with him about their experiences.

“We have not got any survivors directly in our midst”, he replied. “Sometimes it is difficult to speak with them, especially when they know you are from an NGO. At the same time they just ignore any form of questioning because they don’t want to be reminded about the dreadful disease or pains they went through. Nevertheless, I interviewed Mohamed Anthony Kamara who was a former EducAid student but currently he is a staff.

He lost four direct family members, confirmed Ebola cases. According to him, the two parents were the figureheads for the family. Follow his story below. I hope that this will be interesting for those people who are reading the blog to understand more about the times in Sierra Leone.”

Read AA’s interview with Mohamed below.

Tell us your name and where you are from?
My name is Mohamed Anthony Kamara. I’m from Romeni Village Bai Bureh Konteh Maforki Chiefdomin the Port Loko District. It is the chiefdom where Bai Bureh, who fought the Hut Tax war in 1898, was buried. It is well known for the historic warrior who revolted against the British imposition of tax on their houses.

With whom did you live before Ebola, who lives there now?
I was residing at EducAid and still with EducAid. I have been away from Romeni Village for 7 years and I seldom pay visit.

Have you lost any family or friends to Ebola?
Yes, I have lost: my uncle, my uncle’s wife and their two little children. They all died in a week but I have an aunt who survived. I was not allowed to visit their funerals. I felt so bad because it has been a tradition that when a family member passed away, all pay visits to sympathise with the bereaved family. But it is well know that visiting funeral homes is one way people contract the disease, so I realized not to attend because it’s all about risk. I was very scared of catching the virus from them.

You told me the two parents were the breadwinners for the family. Who is taking care of the family? Are they getting support from concern organisations?

It is the major problem for their five children that have been left behind, but other family members will just have to share them. They have not received any form of help from an organisation.

How have you avoided catching Ebola? Where did you learn these techniques?
I follow and keep to the preventive methods that I have learnt from EducAid Ebola sensitization meetings and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. They release posters, jingles, community sensitisations, radio programs etc.) 

EducAid helped me by restricting my movement, providing antiseptic such as chlorine, and Miriam and coordinators’ monitoring and ensuring that we keeping to the precautions mentioned.

If I was not in EducAid, I think that I would have been involved in isolating the sick, reporting sick people in my home or area/community and restricting my movement to try to keep safe. Also by avoiding any form of body contact. But I believe EducAid had greatly helped to keep me safer than being out of this unified family.

What are the biggest challenges that the country faces regarding Ebola?
EducAid is massively doing a good job - more for their size than any other concerned organizations are doing to breach the transmission rate. Unfortunately there is much to do, especially:

· Maintaining the Health State of Emergency and avoiding public gathering, movement from quarantined/isolated areas to non quarantine/ isolated areas etc)

· Removing the traditional beliefs and practices such as washing dead bodies before calling burial teams for burial, visiting funeral homes and associating unconfirmed death to witchcraft.

· Providing enough food for quarantined homes and isolated chiefdoms/districts

· Change the attitude of certain Sierra Leoneans. People don’t consider Church, Mosque, Market, court as similar gatherings to that of schools, institutions and universities that are not allowed to operate. These should also be closed to stop Ebola.

How are you helping in the fight against Ebola?
I have been working with the Ebola sensitisation teams in the following:

· Sensitizing community members, family members
· Reporting sick person/s
· Keeping to the avoidance rules


Mohamed’s story shows just how close Ebola is to EducAid. When the first reports of Ebola were appearing, and Miriam returned to the UK at the beginning of the year, I remember her saying that the virus is far away. “None of us know anyone who is suffering from Ebola.”

Now, however, the case is very different. The proximity is not only physical – at Lumley and our Port Loko schools we are literally surrounded by the virus – it is an emotional drain on our staff and students because now everyone knows someone who has been directly affected.

I spent some time yesterday analysing the data that has been published by the Ministry of Health for Sierra Leone, and I found it to be particularly worrying for us.

We have 1 school Freetown, the Western Urban Area, and we have 2 schools in Port Loko, the region with the second highest number of cases in the country. It is only testament to the tightly orchestrated protection of our sites by Miriam and our coordinators that has ensured that we stay safe.

Until now, that has been good enough. However it has become clear both to us, and the international aid community, that the isolation and observation of potential Ebola sufferers needs to be done on a proactive and local level, rather than a reactive regional level. As explained in a post yesterday, this is to identify and segregate those who are potentially ill before they have time to show symptoms and further infect others. We believe that we are in the perfect position to do this, and have begun to prepare to do so.

As always, we need your support to keep doing what we’re doing. You can see the value that we bring every day. 

In the face of crisis, EducAid is unrocked.

We are fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ebola Today: A worsening crisis in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is facing a worsening Ebola crisis day by day. Whilst it’s neighbours begin to seize control over the vicious and deadly virus, Sierra Leone’s number of Ebola cases continues to spiral higher and higher. Despite the sluggish start to the international response, it is now not the volume of aid that is impeding the progress of counter-Ebola efforts, but the lack of human and infrastructural resources on the ground.

Graph taken from BBC article “Ebola: Mapping the Outbreak”[1]

The above shows that the weekly reported Ebola cases in both Guinea and Liberia are declining, and have been since the beginning of September. However, despite these countries’ ability to control the outbreak, the cases in Sierra Leone’s are still rising.

Worryingly, the number of cases per day has more than tripled since early August. It is worth noting that these statistics have been widely criticised for under-reporting the new cases yet the total number of cases now reaches over 6000 in Sierra Leone even according to these figures. The mean growth shows a very clear increasing trend with little sign of slowing.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that speed is the key to ending the Ebola epidemic, in an interview with National Public Radio.

“The biggest challenge right now is in Sierra Leone, he says, where the epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. New cases continue to rise exponentially. Last week, the country reported nearly 400 cases, or more than three times the number of cases reported by Guinea and Liberia combined.”

Without speed and effective measures, he says that Ebola could become a permanent disease in that part of the continent.

This is a worrying statistic. Why has the international response been so ineffective in isolating and paralysing the disease in Sierra Leone? Well, there are a number of factors.

It was widely documented that aid from the international community was slow to arrive, particularly from those countries with colonial ties to the suffering countries: UK with Sierra Leone, USA with Liberia, and France with Guinea. It is undeniable that the lack of assertive early action has allowed the virus a head start on the aid community.

Having said that, the international response following the slow start has been strong, particularly from the former two of those aforementioned countries.

Considering this influx of aid, why have these organisations been ineffective in the targeted delivery of their objective: to slow and stop the spread of Ebola?

An open letter sent to Justine Greening, the international development secretary, signed by 53 doctors, charity representatives and a former British diplomat, have warned that the UK must step up efforts to contain Ebola in Sierra Leone. The letter goes on to say that it is necessary to avoid a catastrophic loss of life that may well lead to a situation where the “health services will collapse entirely”, resulting in a “public health disaster that will eclipse the Ebola outbreak itself and provide the perfect incubator for further outbreaks”.

In an article on the letter, the Guardian notes that the signatories pick out access to Sierra Leone as a major issue. They say that measures such as the UK’s department of transport revoking Gambia Bird’s permit to fly direct from London to Freetown has prevented them from deploying the “significant resources” that they have already amassed.

The signatories praised the British decision to build large hospitals in permanent structures and intrinsically considering the longer-term future of the country. However, it noted that the first of six DFID-funded hospitals, which opened in the beginning of November, will not be fully operational until January. The remainder have yet to even open.

“The deployment of low-tech treatment centres in local areas is the only way to achieve the rapid scale of capacity required,” said the letter.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Sierra Leone had only 120 doctors for 6 million people at the beginning of the Ebola outbreak; that’s 1 doctor for every 50,000.

The packed conditions, under-resourced care centres, and lack of trained healthcare staff means that the existing staff must work longer and harder every day. The exhaustion that sets in leads to mistakes, and Ebola mistakes are, more often than not, deadly. Ebola has already taken the lives of 10 doctors to date. It has also infected 125 health workers, and killed 91 of them. Despite apparently not receiving their ‘hazard pay’, they are taking extraordinary risks on a daily basis. This has been of such concern to the international community that it has been deemed necessary to set up aid programs exclusively to help the healthcare volunteers of Ebola.

Returning to the points raised by Dr. Frieden and the open letter signatories, there is a very clear message: the ability paralyse the virus is dependent on the quick identification and isolation of sufferers in multiple locations around the country. Whilst the big hospitals and care centres will be able to handle and treat those sufferers, the key element is segregating those who are sick before they have time to pass on the virus to those who are not, and this needs to be done firstly on a local and regional level.

It is my belief that this posits organisations such as EducAid in a pivotal position. Organisations like ours have the capacity, the human resource, and the vested interest in Sierra Leone to assist the larger organisations in the isolation of Ebola. For example, Phase 3 of our #AfterEbola programme is already taking in the lowest risk Ebola orphans. With the appropriate medical partnerships, and programmes agreed by government and international organisations, we would be in the perfect position to accept a broader set of at-risk orphans and to isolate any of those showing signs of Ebola.

Not only are we an organisation that can help in the short to mid-term by providing buildings, human resources, and other infrastructure, but we are an organisation that will continue this care in to the long term and be able to provide a seamless transition in to on-going stable education, care, and a future for these vulnerable children.

We are not simply talking the talk; we have begun to engage the communities in our #AfterEbola Phase 3 projects, and we’ve received countless applications from communities who need help with the number of orphans that they have. We have ensured that our buildings are prepared, our staff are trained, and our students ready to begin accepting those orphans in to our Phase 3 programmes – this has taken time, effort, and money, but there is always more to do.

Simultaneously, we are continuing Phase 2 of our #AfterEbola programme in educating those of our students who have not been able to return to our schools by way of Podcasts distributed on MP3 players, on WhatsApp and via BlueTooth. This is particularly important because we fear that those who lose touch with EducAid and their education over this period may never return. Our focus is to bring these students back and ensure that we continue with all of the hard work that they have put in so far.

We really need your help. All of the costs associated with these programmes: mp3 players, recording equipment, building materials, the spiralling cost of food, anti-malarial prophylaxis, additional hygiene and sanitation measures to keep our students healthy, as well as responding to calls to go into the communities are all an expensive process.

They are expensive, but they are absolutely necessary. We are trying to forge a progressive path to securing Sierra Leone’s future. Anything that you can spare as a donation this Christmas time is appreciated.

We rely heavily on the generosity of our donors, and we know that we have your support when it really counts.

Now is one of those times.

Please support our fight by clicking here.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Miriam Mason-Sesay: The Angel of Freetown

I stumbled across an article from 2008 while researching another blog post. Reading it made me sit, stop, and really consider the impact of what EducAid does. During the course of the year or so that I have been involved with the charity I have been told about the impact of the civil war on Sierra Leone, and I’d read up on the political and social motivations of the civil division, but I had not really read too much about the impact of war on children and the child soldiers. While I knew that the wartime abuse of children is a huge issue in the Sierra Leonean story, and directly affected many of those within the EducAid system, the rarity with which it was mentioned lead me to think that there were just topics that were not discussed, particularly with foreigners. Never, until this article, have I read of these atrocities in such raw terms – torture, child soldiers, cannibalism, and rape.

Miriam acts as the mouthpiece for the powerful and terrifying story of those she had helped struggle through these difficult times. Below I have included some excerpts from the original article below, please be wary that it makes for some tough reading.

“Many of [EducAid’s students] had been child soldiers, kidnapped by rampaging militias, living their childhood in the jungle, decimating villages, mutilating and killing as they went. Many others had been orphaned and displaced, witness to horrors that defy belief.

‘We have ex-combatants, girl mothers and orphans,’ she says. ‘I don’t know where they find the strength to overcome their horrific experiences.’ Combatants were often force-fed drugs (including gunpowder in their food), supposedly to make them ‘better fighters’. Their captors slashed them with knives and put cocaine into the wound before they went into battle.

The cocaine numbed all emotion. ‘One of our students, Abu, 21, said there was
only one day in the whole war that he remembered vividly because he’d run away
the night before and missed his drugs dose. I asked him why he ran away, and he said that a
witch doctor had decreed that in order to win the next battle they must find two
children and a pregnant woman and bury them alive. They made Abu dig the pits.
He was 12 years old.’
Girls now attending the school were, luckily, too young during the war to be targeted as rape victims, but still witnessed terrible scenes. ‘One, Fanta, described how, aged eight, she and some older girls were captured by rebels,’ says Miriam. ‘The woman in charge of them was cut up and eaten in front of them, and the older girls repeatedly raped.

‘Another, Ruth, nine at the time, was kept in a building with other hostages. Every morning five would be picked at random, taken out and shot. The soldiers would place bets on the sex of a pregnant woman’s baby. Then they would cut her open and the soldier who was right would shoot the other. There was no respect for life, even their own,’ says Miriam."

This article was written 6 years ago, we are now twice as far from the end of the war as we were then. I had initially told myself that this brutal period was no longer the subject of everyday conversation; rather, it was a constant presence in the background of the nation’s mind. That was why, I told myself, across all of my communications with various EducAidians, the topic of war had not come up.

Now, however, I have come to an alternative conclusion. Over the past 14 years Miriam has infused her constructive attitude towards problem solving throughout EducAid; resoluteness in the face of challenges has become the defining feature of her leadership, along with an unabated love and dedication to her students. She will achieve her objectives in the manner that they should be done; no compromise.

During some research for other articles, a question that I asked our coordinators was ‘Do you have an example of someone who has done amazing things for EducAid?’ Every single respondent, without fail, replied with the same answer: Miriam. Here is what AJ & Kai had to say when posed the question:

“Yes the EducAid Country Director Miriam is one person whose efforts need to be recognised. She was the first person having meeting with the whole community in Magbeni concerning Ebola. It was not only Magbeni, at all the other sites she held the same Ebola meeting.

The great love and caring she has for both staff and students is just wonderful. Almost all foreign workers and volunteers left the country when the Ebola outbreak started, but she is still with us.”

Miriam’s educational expertises gave her the knowledge to create a holistic and tailored academic syllabus, but it is her own determination, leadership and innovation that has enabled her to build a national network of schools in Sierra Leone. Over the past 14 years EducAid has dramatically changed the lives of all those who have come in to contact with it. It is an institution that, with the appropriate funding and logistical support, will grow and grow. Miriam’s strength and sensibilities have enabled her not only to give life to the most poverty-stricken and emotionally scarred children, but also to establish EducAid as an leading independent educational institution, and a model for those around it. She has stood up, discounting the hurdles of race and gender, and instrumented systematic change from within. Miriam isn’t building a better-than-nothing alternative, she is building a national academy for the future where morality, community, and hard work are our guiding principles: Excellent Attendance, Excellent Behaviour, and Excellent Effort. Now we have our alumni representing us in universities and colleges all around the world. Without Miriam’s passionate drive and sense of selfless duty, EducAid would not be what it is today.

In a passing comment, Miriam said that upon returning from the UK to a Freetown in the grips of Ebola, one staff member spoke to her and said, “This is how we know that you love us like a mother, you have returned to Sierra Leone to die with us.”

Miriam immediately identified the fear interlaced in this comment, and set out the course with which we are fighting Ebola today. Miriam has successfully changed the despondency and resignation with which Ebola gripped the population in to a programme of proactive education and re-integration. The work that Miriam has spearheaded in the space of a few months is nothing short of incredible; she and her support staff are educating hundreds of children that would otherwise have no access to their schooling, and no access to hope, by distributing engaging and lively classes and debates on mp3 players, BlueTooth, and by WhatsApp. It is this kind of innovative thinking that will ensure EducAid will continue to succeed in the future.

We should be clear, the reason that the topic of war has never been raised between any contributors and myself is not because it is a distant memory, or a national desire to move forward, it is because Miriam will not allow for dwelling on things in the past. Just as she was quoted in the original article, ‘My attitude has always been: “I don’t care what you did in the war – where is your maths homework?”’

It is Miriam’s drive and focus that we must be thankful for. We have an incredibly dedicated and hard-working team that support her in Sierra Leone, and I think that they would all join me in this praise and thanks.

Thank you Miriam

Original Article:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Close Call - Donald Whenzle

Donald Whenzle is another member of the EducAid community that has had to grapple with the ferocious Ebola virus.

Donald grew up in Waterloo, attending both Primary and Junior Secondary school there before joining EducAid to finish his Senior Secondary studies. He was shocked on his arrival because of the vast differences in teaching methods. His previous school taught only the essential knowledge for exams, on a rote learning basis - a method that he suggests made it hard for him and his peers to engage with. 

On arriving at EducAid, he found our independent learning and holistic syllabus particularly challenging, so it took him some time to adjust. However, having become an integral member of the EducAid family, Donald sees himself as improving socially as well as academically at EducAid. His studies were disrupted somewhat after the Minister of Education cancelled the senior public exams in 2013, but he was finally able to finish his secondary studies in 2014 and to join our junior staff early on this year.

Donald says that the style and content of teaching provides a completely different kind of education that he was ever exposed to. He points out that the Quality Enhancement Programmes - teacher training courses for other school teachers - are a testament to the fact that EducAid's model is one to follow. It lays an importance on being a wholesome member of society, and giving education back to the community, rather than simply passing exams. In turn, this focus sees EducAid make important and long-lasting changes to Sierra Leone.

Waterloo is a major intersection on the Masiaka-Yonibana Highway, on the main approach to Freetown from the South. It has been one of the worst seats of Ebola. The map, drawn from a WHO Situation Report on 10th December, shows the number of cases to appear across Sierra Leone in the prior 21 days. 

Freetown is on the west coast, and the big yellow circle sitting on top and south of Freetown's circle represents the outbreak in Waterloo. The voracity of the disease's spread has not let up since the beginning of the outbreak, and life there is incomparable to what it was before Ebola.

Donald was in Maronka, one of our schools, when he heard that his mother had travelled from Waterloo to stay in a nearby town, Wellington, to try and escape Ebola. Later on, he got a call from his mother to hear that the house she had previously been staying in had been quarantined because an uncle had become infected by Ebola. The whole family was quarantined in the house with no food, treatment, or water for one week. Eventually they were taken to the treatment centre, but it was too late for most of them. One by one, nine out of eleven members of the family became infected and died. His grandmother, three uncles, three aunts, two cousins all died; two aunts survived. 

The fact of Donald’s mother going to Wellington for that period saved her life – it is these moments of fortune that we hope to hear every day. Donald is very grateful to be in the EducAid family and explains that without EducAid, his situation would be much more vulnerable indeed. He is also fairly sure that he too would have been infected if he had been with his Waterloo family.

This is another example of the importance of isolation from Ebola. The first phase of our #AfterEbola programme has been a success, in that we have avoided any cases of Ebola on our sites so far, and now we are moving forwards by implementing Phase 2, and Phase 3.

We can only pray for miracles and fortune, but we can actually make preventative action. We are fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help us this Christmas time.

Donate to our Ebola campaign here.

Like our facebook page, follow Miriam on Twitter, and sign up to our blog for more EducAid news and updates.

Christmas is coming...maybe think about buying a Gift Certificate, or a delightful book of photographs taken by our students in Maronka and Rolal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Returning to Kigbal – EducAid on the BBC

The picture that we painted nearly a month ago in Kigbal was not one full of promise. Coinciding with a BBC News journalist, Miriam visited a small village called Kigbal, 4 hours northeast of the capital, Freetown.

The BBC Journalist, Andrew Harding, described the scene like this:
“A smooth tarmac road runs through the middle of Kigbal village in Sierra Leone. On the east side of it, perhaps 30 children stand clustered in the shade.
"We came to this side to be safe," says 14-year-old Mabinti Kamara, glancing at the mud homes across the road and a dark silhouette beneath a tree. 
"A lot of people died there. They took my father away. I don't know what happened to him".
Miriam’s report was just a bleak:
“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? 
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.”
This was on November 10th.

More recently, however, Andrew Harding has returned to Kigbal and found a different scenario. Despite suffering heavy losses in the village – 1 in 6 died to the disease over a period of weeks – the general mood is much better. This is in no small part to the work that we have done at EducAid, and he mentions so in the article and video. We have managed to make safe a number of the Orphans with the help of Zainab, the carer featured in the film, and we will continue to do everything we can to help the sufferers and orphans of Ebola. See the children that we have saved from Kigbal, making the most of our Education by Podcast initiative – our programmes are working, and we are reaching the most vulnerable children by any safe means possible.

Read Andrew Harding’s report here, and watch his video in Kigbal – it shows a village with hope and optimism restored in their minds. Despite their losses, a sense of achievement is in the air. For now, this is the case. Ebola is, unfortunately, still severely out of control. With 45 new cases yesterday, 58 on Monday, and 25 on Sunday, the 41% survival rate will mean that 75 of those people will die. This is an unnecessary waste of life.

Please continue to help us change the course of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Donate now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Interim Care Centre - #AfterEbola Phase 3

Last week we outlined the need for the 3rd phase of our fight in this Ebola outbreak. This week we are taking a huge step towards implementing an effective and progressive programme for life after Ebola.

There are huge numbers of children, the most vulnerable members of society, being orphaned by the vicious Ebola virus. The Guardian wrote in a piece that Sierra Leone’s Ebola orphans face a situation worse than war; we agree. We have some concerns over the effectiveness of the family tracing and reunification projects that are being prioritised at the moment, so we find ourselves with an even more important role than before.

Upon careful consideration, we have decided that our most effective course of action is to open 2 Interim Care Centres (ICCs), in to which we will accept the orphans of Ebola. These centres will take the lowest risk orphans – those that have been known to us for an extended period of time, who have not come in to contact with the virus for at least 21 days – in to an isolated building on one of our sites. Here, these children will be kept for a further period of 21 days, to ensure that there is no risks posed by the virus, and then integrated in to our school system where they will be provided with the loving home, care, and education that EducAid has to offer.

The first ICC is in Maronka, it was previously used as the teacher training building. We have fenced off the building to ensure no early cross-contamination between the students and orphans. The second ICC is the secondary Junior School building in Rolal, it has seen a huge amount of work done in preparation for this initiative. We have dug new latrines for the building, turned the kitchen in to an incinerator, painted the walls with a special oil-based paint to allow for easy disinfection, fenced around the whole site, as well as a number of other changes that we will detail later.

The period of isolation for these children is our final step of protocol. We are confident that these orphans do not have Ebola, but our priority has always been to ensure the safety of our current student and staff population so this period is essential to that.

Rather than exposing our staff to any risk of exposure, we have enlisted the help of Zainab and other Ebola survivors. They have been trained in care and preventative methods, and will now oversee the period of isolation and continue the daily health checks throughout these 3 weeks. During this time she will be looking after these orphans: keeping them happy, and healthy. The survivor carers will also play an important role in monitoring the children from a pastoral point of view, and informing us of any real concerns that she has with these children who have suffered such a terrible time.

This process is of huge importance for Sierra Leone, generally. Not only are we taking steps to reduce the social impact of Ebola on those most affected, we are also helping to reduce the spread of Ebola by undertaking a localised period of observation and removing vulnerable potential sufferers from the cycle of transmission, thereby reducing the strain on the health and emergency services.

These orphans have seen the worst of Ebola. Many of them have seen parents and siblings taken by the virus, and have now spent months isolated and without any pastoral care of any kind. Aside from the educational support that we expect to provide, we are preparing ourselves for the need for psychological support – we will discuss this need, and our methods in another post. For now, feel confident in the fact that EducAid is now participating in the seclusion of potential sufferers of Ebola, as well as in the education of ways to prevent it.

Today is #givingtuesday, an initiative that was borne from a distaste for the excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you’ve been chasing down the latest deals and buying presents for Christmas, spare a thought for the orphans that are taking their first step to rebuilding their lives. We are still a long way short of what we need to raise, and we really need your help.

Remember, £180 will pay for a student for an entire year – accommodation, food, medical care and their education. Please donate whatever you can.

We’ll be telling Zainab’s story tomorrow – how she lost her family, fought through Ebola, and is coming back to help EducAid save the next generation. Make sure to sign up for the blog to receive alerts in your inbox.