Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Impact of the OICC

If you have been following the progress of the Ebola outbreak, you’ll know that all of the schools in Sierra Leone are closed. Recently, President Ernest Bai Koroma issued an instruction that no schools would be opened until the WHO declares Sierra Leone free from Ebola. Whilst you may find this a distressing announcement, we really back this move from the President. 

Rushing children back to their schools could further destabilise the situation, and send the Ebola situation in to further decline. We are very conscious that few schools have staff as well-trained, and facilities as well-prepared as EducAid, and we would hate to see children pay the price for a premature return. Although it does mean that most children are not accessing an education and routine that is essential for personal and societal growth, those prerogatives should not be at the cost of more lives.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you will know that our teaching staff have been engaged in a number of activities during the Ebola outbreak. Our pioneering Education by Podcast programme is reaching hundreds of students living at home, while teachers across our network are running Ebola sensitisation meetings with local communities to provide training and support to those in the firing line. Through these programmes we have helped to slow the progress of the virus through our most natural means of work – education.

Just before the New Year we received some fantastic news: our Interim Care Centres were approved for operation by the district, and we began to take in orphans of Ebola for care, quarantine, and eventual integration in to our schools. The Observational Interim Care Centre (OICC) is where we take in high-risk orphans for the mandatory quarantine period of 21 days. In a previous post I explained the processes by which we ensure medical security for the orphans and care staff, but today I want to give you a fuller overview of exactly how we operate these centres, and what progress we have achieved.

The OICC in Rolal currently has 80 students in the centre, 51 boys and 29 girls. During it’s operation we have discharged more than 30 young people. Most of those discharged orphans have come in to our schools, whilst some have returned back to their communities. Miriam has said that the entrant’s states’ of mind vary, but that most are amazingly cheerful and positive. The welcoming embrace of the EducAid community is a wonderfully calming and settling presence for these children. There was always bound to be a few tears when youngsters like this have been through what they have been, but the staff have helped them to settle very quickly.

Miriam implemented a lot of work in to preparing the other students for our new entrants’ integration in to the schools. This solid groundwork has ensured that there has been no problem assimilating the new students, and that none of the existing students presume any of the stigma that so frequently surrounds an Ebola survivor. This in itself is a great success for Miriam and her team. She says that there have been absolutely no problems concerning stigmatisation, and that all have quickly been befriended and integrated in to the classes.

The OICC students are not without problems, however. The need for Sierra Leoneans to send off their deceased in the right manner is something which we investigated in a previous post, and despite education it continues to pose problems today. In fact, Miriam mentioned that some of the kids have received calls from relatives about sacrifices or ceremonies for deceased family members. She says that calls like these upset the children greatly, even to the point where one whole family left so that they could participate. We have no idea what situation they will face when they get return to their homes, or what sort of funeral rites they will be participating in, but we have to respect their own personal wishes even if it means that they put themselves directly in harm’s way.

Behind the scenes, the OICCs require a huge amount of work. Whilst Miriam laid the initial groundwork, Amadu Kamara, better known as AK to EducAid, is our representative and Miriam’s right-hand man for the OICC with respect to the district authorities. Every month AK attends meetings with the district Ebola response coordinator, a UN rep, the WHO, the WFP, UNICEF, Goal, the IRC, and Oxfam on behalf of WATSAN. Collectively, this is the district’s Ebola Response Task Force.

At these meetings the group discusses emerging issues from around the district, and any actions being taken to deal with the problems. The attendees of these meetings have been incredibly responsive to the work that EducAid are doing, and have had very good things to say.

The OICC itself is subject to inspections from a number of bodies, including the Ministry of Social Welfare, the WHO, and the DHMT. Typically, these inspections centre on disease protection and control as well as child protection and welfare. So far, EducAid’s facilities and care has been exemplary. The WHO official that came round to inspect the OICC was so impressed that she donated $1000 USD of her own personal money for us to continue our work. If there was ever a testament to the good work that EducAid is doing, then I believe that is it.

The work that we are doing for the orphans of Ebola is impacting hundreds of lives and has been given the backing of the biggest aid organisations in the world. This is an amazing feat for a charity that is backed, primarily, by our loyal and committed community of donors. Having observed the volume of money piled in to West Africa over the past months, it is amazing to see that with such a modest amount of money we can initiate so much change.

We are immensely proud that the effect of our #AfterEbola programme will be felt for many years to come. Not only are we helping the most vulnerable members of society escape the direct effects of Ebola, but we are providing them with the future of education. Miriam is so right when she writes that ‘education is hope’, and with EducAid’s programmes we are making hope a reality. This is happening right now, and we can’t do it without your support. Please consider making a donation so that we can continue our programme to alleviate the impact of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Your money could not go further elsewhere.

You can show your support by donating to our #AfterEbola programme here, and by sharing our stories on our facebook here.

We’re fighting for a life #AfterEbola, please help.

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