Sunday, April 26, 2015

Political Instability in Sierra Leone

The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), a special consultant to the UN Economic and Social Council, has issued a warning in the wake of the contentious, and potentially unconstitutional, sacking of the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Alhaji Sam-Sumana.

There are various factors at play, but the most threatening and sticky claim made against the president, Ernest Bai Koroma, is that he has broken the 1995 Constitution - a document that he swore his life to protect. As with anything like this, it is not a straightforward situation. There is a reasoning to argue that the President had not, in fact, acted unconstitutionally as the vice-president was dropped from the party by the president, and could not hold the office without membership to the All People’s Congress party at the time. This is something that will be decided by the Supreme Court of Sierra Loene. The opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party, have their own agenda in causing the instability and smearing of the President. They are spreading their version of events and organising demonstrations to corral their voters in advance of the 2017 elections.

Regardless of the political tactics, there is general discontentment and fear within the public that the President has overstepped his mark, and is in danger of eroding the Consitutional rule of law that marked such a significant step forwards after the brutal civil war. This is certainly a dangerous precedent to set in a political system so immature and early in it’s developmental stages.

Rather than summarising a very concise and informative piece, I have included a link to the full article below. I will leave you, however, with the Conclusion:

“Political tension in Sierra Leone continues to rise amid a worrying hike in the number of new Ebola cases. The current political context threatens the fragile peace and security of Sierra Leone's emerging democracy, amidst the complex Ebola emergency. The expulsion of Alhaji Sam-Sumana from the APC and subsequent dismissal as vice president has stirred immense confusion in the country with reference to the 1991 constitution that stipulate the dismissal of a vice president with two-third votes of the parliament. However, the constitution also requires that the office holder should belong to a registered political party. In the light of this and the pending case at the Supreme Court, citizens are hopeful that the Court delivers a win-win verdict that clearly reflects the provisions of the constitution. This is imperative to prevent the country from plunging into further chaos.”

We will keep you informed of any developments in this matter, and the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

For the full article, please visit this link.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Challenge of Getting Students back to School

Schools are open, but attendance is low. There are several things affecting the cautious and slow return to school for Sierra Leone’s youngsters. Roeland Monasch, Unicef’s Sierra Leone representative, who described the reopening of the country’s 8,000 schools as “a major step in the normalisation of life”, but Alison Schafer, World Vision’s mental health and psychosocial support specialist in Freetown says that “reopening schools is not just a one-off event. It’s going to be a months-long journey.”

Below we look at some of the reasons behind the slow return of students, and whether we can expect the numbers to return to normal.


Parents are, understandably, nervous and fearful of allowing their children back to schools to mix freely with other students. It’s a realistic concern, and one that we share to a certain extent ourselves.

The fear that parents are feeling was exemplified when we opened two of our schools; we had to have major community meetings with the Paramount Chief and Deputy Director of Education to convince parents that the drinks we were giving the students while they were taking their questionnaires and literacy tests we not a plan to give them Ebola. The paranoia that this invisible and indiscriminate killer has left is astounding.

School children across the country have been met at the gates with infrared temperature checks, chlorine washes, educational programmes to reinforce Ebola prevention techniques, and more stringent rules surrounding playing and touching one another.

Ebola is still in the country and, going against the previous announcement from the Ministry of Education, the schools have opened before the country has been declared Ebola free. We will be watching closely the news and figures surrounding new cases, and whether they are linked to the reopening of schools.

At EducAid, our staff have been actively engaged in fighting Ebola from the outset, so we have the facilities and training to minimise the threat of an Ebola outbreak. Having said that, the utmost caution and discipline will be taken at every step.

Family Economy

Due to the widespread destruction that Ebola has caused, more than 8,600 Sierra Leonean children lost one or both parents to the disease. Family finances and the general economy are at a desperate low, with many children forced to find work to support themselves and their families.

“It will be hard for struggling families to sacrifice even that small income and send their children back, especially girls,” said Alison Schafer.

Fortunately, EducAid does not charge any fees, nor do we require any of the potential financial barriers to education such as clothing or educational materials. As you may well be aware, our fees are: excellent attendance; excellent behaviour; and excellent effort.

In an article by The Guardian, Sylvester Meheux, a headteacher in Rokel, says that in many cases the students “have been trading and are now used to having a little bit of money.” This makes the challenge of bringing these students back to school that much more difficult, and bringing this new-found independence back in to the schooling environment.

This is a challenge that we will face on a student-by-student basis, and one that we are prepared for.

Birth Rates

Teenage pregnancy has been a huge problem, and one that we wrote about in two previous articles: Teen Pregnancy & Sexual Violence – Unseen Consequences of Ebola (Part 1 & Part 2). This group, girls that have already lost so much to this disease, will not be allowed back because the government has refused to lift the ban on pregnant girls attending school.

Fortunately, we will not have to abide by this ban if we find that some of our girls have fallen into this trap. The Ministry of Education is digging it’s heels in on this item for government schools though, and we know that many futures will be lost with this decision. In a country where women are already at such a disadvantage, they are being punished for actions for which they should either share responsibility or, unfortunately, share absolutely no responsibility or blame in. To read more about this, do read the blogs linked above.


Disengagement is potentially one of the biggest problems that we will have to encounter. Like child students across the world, a year out of education – under any circumstances – will make it incredibly difficult to return to the structure of school. Add to that the lost skills and investment in the school and examination system, these students will need so much support to get them back to their studies.

“Amid the relief and excitement of returning to school”, says Alison Schafer, “there would also be fear and anxiety – which was why World Vision had helped train more than 1,000 teachers in psychosocial support skills. Although children may be concerned about the possibility of catching Ebola in the classroom, they are more worried that they’ve forgotten everything they’ve learned,” she said. “They’re anxious about whether they can ever catch up.”

People in the country are quietly positive, however. Many people in Sierra Leone do recognise the importance for education, and it has become a something positive in the world since the civil war. Increasingly, children have better access through both government and NGO lead programmes.

“The turnout is small but we hope more will come by the end of the week,” said Sylvester Meheux, Rokel’s headteacher. “Some children have dropped out but the bulk will return.

The problem is, of course, the longer that they stay away from school, the harder it will be to get them back. With nearly a year out of school already, every day it gets more difficult.

The good news is that EducAid will be reopening our schools on the 27th April. We are a lifeline for so many children, it will be good to get back on to our mission. The excitement within the schools is palpable, and our staff have been busy preparing for the students return. Not long to go now!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

EducAid Schools to Re-open

With new Ebola cases having steadied at around 1-2 per day, the President, Ernest Bai Koroma, and the Ministry of Education have decided that it is now time to re-open schools in Sierra Leone. Whilst this is a huge morale boost for the nation, and a significant step forwards, we are still facing a very delicate situation. The decision goes against what was announced in January of this year by Dr. Minkailu Bah, the Minister for Education, when he said in a radio interview that schools would not be reopened until the World Health Organisation had declared that Sierra Leone was free of Ebola. The expedited schedule of reopening schools is something that we are both excited by, and nervous of. As an independent institution we are not bound by the government-prescribed schedule, but we also do not want to be a school that acts outside of the spectrum of other schools which would only further alienate our students who’d have to stay at home whilst their friends went back to school.

Despite a fantastic effort from everyone in the region – both domestic and international health and aid organisations – we have not yet been able to declare the country as Ebola-free. In order to achieve this feat, as is defined by the WHO, Sierra Leone must undergo a period of 42 days with no new cases.

The danger of re-opening schools while Ebola is present in the country is obvious: the increased movement of people within close proximity, and the playful nature of students at school would provide a hotbed of transmission that could lead to a new spike of cases in the outbreak. It also puts the young most at risk.

We have been able, over the last few weeks, to start bringing back our past pupils through our own quarantine system so as not to endanger in any way those who have been living with us throughout. As we observe how things go with the government schools we will be able to determine whether it will be ok to terminate our quarantine arrangements and bring all our children back in safely. We feel more vulnerable than other schools because of most of our schools being residential.

It is essential to maintaining the safety and integrity of our schools. It has been our key objective throughout this outbreak to ensure that our staff and students are kept safe from Ebola, and we will not allow this to be undermined so close to the end of it all.

There is not a final date set for the opening of EducAid, but it will be very soon. The students are waiting anxiously to rejoin their friends and get back on task.

Please do consider donating to help get our schools and students through this difficult time. If you have a spare 5 minutes you should read our previous post, ‘AJ & Kai making us Proud in Magbeni’. Theirs is a story that most accurately demonstrates the real change that we are making in this country, and really does make us feel very proud.

There will be a real need for some healing in this country, and if you think you could help us in any way please do get in touch via our website.

EducAid, Learning for Life in Sierra Leone.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

AJ & Kai Making us Proud in Magbeni

One cornerstone of our mission, and something that EducAid has always been immensely proud of, is being an intrinsically Sierra Leonean organisation, and being cemented in the centre of our communities. From the very inception of the charity we committed to establishing our roots in Sierra Leone - not to fall in to the trap of many NGOs - but to empower Sierra Leoneans themselves to initiate their own change. This week, Miriam’s visit to our school at Magbeni revealed an initiative devised by some of the staff there that encapsulates this very fact, better than we could ever describe it. This is Miriam’s account:

“I visited Magbeni yesterday and found myself incredibly touched by their latest activities at the school. On the suggestion of AJ, our site coordinator there, and his deputy, Kai, the staff members have been ‘taxing’ themselves for a development fund. Their idea was to use this time and money in order to be able to do things they perceive as necessary within the school. To reiterate, this was an initiative dreamed up entirely by AJ and Kai – what a fantastic and entrepreneurial thing to do.

During the height of the Ebola crisis they contributed 1 Friday each and built 10 large group work tables and 20 benches; they put in a new ceiling in the library as well as laying a new floor. This week I met a new building that has been built as a library - it is nearly finished. Their attitude is so lovely and encouraging, I was really impressed.

The work that they have undertaken within the school is not the end of it. AJ (in blue) and his deputy, Kai, are both past pupils, and they are so incredibly committed to the EducAid beliefs and really lead the team. The photos of the two of them is with their other construction project, something that they have persuaded the community to help them with i.e. a couple of outside classrooms that can accommodate everyone in the village. They are determined that they, and the community that we are helping, will not force EducAid to carry the whole burden. It is a very very unusual attitude, and in great contradiction to the usual dependence and sense of entitlement that people often feel when they’ve been reliant on charity and aid for such a long time. It really reminds us of how much work that we’re doing to change things here – not just education, nor housing and food, but real social change. I’m so proud of those boys and long may them keep it up!”

I can do nothing but to reiterate Miriam’s words here. It is an immensely powerful story and one that signals such positive change in these communities. Through our educational morals we have inspired others to come together and work for the greater good. Go AJ, Go Kai, and Go Magbeni!

We’re beginning to accept our students in to our schools – running through the necessary precautions as we always have - and classes will be up and running again very soon. This is such a great story to propel us off in to this period of hard work, we can say nothing but thank you.

It is when one considers the compassion and generosity of these small acts that we can really appreciate the impact of the hard work that we do. It reiterates our mission and motto: Learning for Life in Sierra Leone.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sewing for Sierra Leone

It is from the generosity of so many that we are able to continue our efforts in Sierra Leone, and can deliver such needed change in a country with so little amongst its general population.

EducAid is not just a network of schools that provide education, we also provide the residential and pastoral care that so many of our students desperately require. Our needs are great: financial donations enable us to keep buy educational materials, pay our 180 or so staff in Sierra Leone, and to keep our students fed; material donations are also very much needed. As shown in the post about a huge shipment of clothes and educational materials sent to Sierra Leone, we can see how much we rely on the generosity of our loyal donors. Again this has been shown this week, with District 9 of the Inner Wheels Club coming together for an event they called ‘Sew for Sierra Leone.’ Below is a brief report written by one of the ladies in charge of this fantastic effort.

“Great fun was had by the ladies from Inner Wheel Clubs. From all across District 9, UK (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire) they got together to 'Sew for Sierra Leone' on 26th February. They were busy creating over 400 cotton sleeping bags, requested by Miriam for the youngsters at EducAid's schools and Interim Care Centres. Friendship and service are key elements of membership in Inner Wheel, a worldwide service organisation for women, and this event provided an ideal opportunity for both. There was plenty of chat and large quantities of tea were consumed as ladies gave their time to sort, cut, stitch, iron and pack for EducAid!

EducAid is District 9's chosen International Service charity for 2014/15 and members were keen to provide some practical help in addition to their on-going fundraising efforts. Members of the public gave tremendous support too, arriving at Inner Wheel club meetings beforehand with bags of sheets and duvet covers for members to transform.

A donation of washable printed labels was received from Beaconsfield company Ooh La Label, who heard what was happening and wanted to get involved. Showing the Inner wheel logo, these were attached to the completed sleeping bags. A Rotarian, Alan, generously helped to pack and transport the completed items at the end of the day, to be added to his next shipment of aid bound for Sierra Leone.”

This superb effort by the ladies at District 9 of the Inner Wheel Clubs again shows us how much can be done when people come together and work towards a single goal. Donations from their community, effort from the Inner Wheel Clubs organisation, and work from private companies have ensured that EducAid is receiving some vital bed-clothing for our students.

We can’t reiterate how essential these kinds of fundraising efforts are for our work in Sierra Leone. Not only does it provide vital items for use by our students, but it also spreads the word of the work that we are doing in Sierra Leone.

Many thanks to all of those who supported this effort through their hard work, organisation, and generous donations. Without your efforts we cannot continue to do what we do so effectively.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Music of Ebola

Go Ebola 4 Go

A song written and performed by DJ. IKK

Music in Sierra Leone has always played an important role, both socially and politically. Used throughout traditional practices in all of the 16 ethnic tribes in Sierra Leone, music is a key way in which communities celebrate, commemorate, teach and mourn together.

When we first started this blog I wrote a post about traditional burial processes, and how they were identified as a key practice increasing the spread of the disease, link is here: Traditions, Rites and the Deadly Virus. In that post I looked at the impact of robbing communities of their traditional mourning practices, and the very real moments of reactionary fear that it created. In a similar, but much more drawn out, experience, the people of Sierra Leone and it’s neighbours have been robbed of the daily social practices that people around the world should be entitled to. The importance of music in Sierra Leone is huge; for any of you who have been to the country you will hear music being played from each and every loudspeaker possible. The real impact of losing this social pillar of daily life may never be truly known, but it is important to see that those music-makers – and their important position within society – have not been lost. It is true to say, however, that in many cases their function has changed.

Ebola Awareness Song, Sweet Africa

A song written and performed by Yung muse

Not only does music have a huge social impact for the community, it also has a large role to play in the politics of the country. A paper, published by Susan Shepler of the American University in 2010, looks at the importance of music around the general elections in 2007. Many of the things that she reveals are the same now as they were then, and the motives of the music that we have seen spring up around the Ebola outbreak mirror those of 2007 and 2008.

“In mid 2007, just prior to the presidential elections in Sierra Leone, youth music about politics was ubiquitous. It blared in public transport, internet cafes, in bars and at parties I attended. Although understood by both producers and consumers as ‘youth’ music, and therefore not quite a part of serious political discourse, the lyrics were on everyone’s lips and the tunes were hummed by market women, school children, and professors alike.” [1]

Zubairu Wai of York University, in 2008, agrees with Shepler’s thoughts, and wrote:

“Music has now become a major way of initiating political conversation about the country’s future and the youth’s role in it. Through music, spaces for social action were created, and these in turn helped in raising the consciousness of the population and [drew] their attention to the myriad of problems in Sierra Leone society and to the possibilities.”[2]

Katrina Manson, in a Reuters article from 2007, documents the same phenomenon:

“In Freetown’s rubbish-strewn slums, music blaring from shops and taxis tells Sierra Leone’s youth that politicians have failed their war-ravaged country.

‘Pak N Go!’ booms the chorus of a dance floor hit by rappers Jungle Leaders in a stark message to the ruling party. Other songs – in the Krio dialect – urge young people to oust the graft-ridden establishment and take a stand against violence. War-scarred youth hold the key to Sierra Leone polls.”[3]

Through all of these articles, we can get a sense of how interlinked the music in Sierra Leone is with the reality of life. Differing from the UK, where much of our mainstream music is built around the illusion of celebrity and an unobtainable goal, the music in Sierra Leone has a very real connection with the people it is speaking with. It is through that connection that it gains it’s power in the real world. Susan Shepler writes again:

“People love these songs, especially their fityai or disrespectfulness/resistance. In the newly post-war world, people were still very nervous about the violent potential of youth. When some people expressed concern to the [then] president, Tejan Kabbah, the president famously said that he would rather have them in production studios than carrying guns in the bush.”

Through music, then, we can see that the youth do have a political voice, and a voice that echoes around all members of society – from school children to academics, as Shepler wrote. This is not a new phenomenon, however. Folklore and the oral tradition have always been a central manner of teaching between generations. This didactic function is continuing to be replicated in face of the Ebola outbreak. In this scenario, it’s teachings are not about community knowledge, but about current affairs.

Early in the Ebola epidemic, the song "White Ebola" exemplifies the role that music can play within communities, as well as the dangers that these orators can pose. The song was released by a group that focuses on the general distrust of "outsiders" in Liberia, and the rumours that it may be those outsiders that are intentionally infecting people with Ebola.

White Ebola

A political song by Mr. Monrovia, AG Da Profit and Daddy Cool, centred on the general mistrust of foreigners.

Another example of a misuse of influence can be seen below. In this case, it is less the good intentions that are in question, but the execution of it. The artists that created Ebola in Tow, developed a dance was in which no body contact was required, a rare occurrence in African dance. However, some healthcare workers from the IFRC had concerns that the "Ebola In Town" song's warning "don't touch your friend" may worsen the stigma already faced by Ebola sufferers and survivors.

Ebola in Town

A dance tune by D-12, Shadow and Kuzzy of 2 Kings, a group of West African rappers, warns people of the dangers of the Ebola virus and explaining how to react.

Fortunately, however, most artists have used their position of influence for the good. The following artists have utilised their songs to spread constructive and useful information about Ebola. Aside from that, they also know how to write a really powerful song, even in the face of such a prolific and destructive adversary.

Africa Stop Ebola

These are Some of Africa’s best-known musicians and have recorded a song to raise awareness of Ebola and help people understand how they can protect themselves from the disease. All profits go to the MSF.

Ebola Does Not Discriminate

A song written and performed by Special C, featuring AOK, asking Sierra Leoneans to follow the safe practices and precautions from the health authorities.

Kick Ebola Out of Salone

Written and performed by the Bo Artist Union. It provides advice, and generally supports the medical and government agencies working in Sierra Leone.

With groups of over 5 people being banned by the state of emergency, many of these songs are the final connection that people have to a normal way of life. Whilst some of these songs can be destructive in their ability to spread misinformation around the country, they are generally positive and well-intentioned.

We hope that soon these Ebola songs will only serve as a reminder of the tragedy that has been going on in the past year. We also hope that, in a matter of months, life will be getting back to normal in Salone, and that we will be able to continue the mission laid out before us.

If you feel that you can help us in any way: by volunteering, fundraising, or donating, please do get in touch via our website.

EducAid, learning for life in Sierra Leone

Fighting for a life #AfterEbola


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Inside Ebola Junction: Dr. John Wright

Dr. John Wright is one of the first NHS volunteers who travelled to Sierra Leone to help fight Ebola. He was a part of the founding team at the Ebola Treatment Centre at Moyamba Junction. During his time in Sierra Leone, Dr. Wright recorded the events and experiences; in this article I have transcribed some of his thoughts.


“It’s Friday, and it’s our real opening day today. We are 4 days late from our original starting date, but it feels like 4 weeks. However, perfection continues to be the enemy of the good and our infection control team are still finding lots of fairly trivial things to sort out before they’re absolutely confident about accepting our first patient. We settle on another postponement from the morning until the afternoon. 3 Ebola positive patients have been reported, and they’re all clinically stable. So, this seems like a pretty good test for our opening. We can admit them straight away and start looking after them properly. There are still lots of other issues in the background: the security for the centre isn’t quite right; the kitchens aren’t working properly; but clinically - and from the infection control - we’re ready.


After half an hour in my protective suit, I feel as though I’m in an out-of-control sauna. My goggles are fogging up, and my vision is starting to get impaired. After an hour I have a pounding headache, and sweat is literally pouring down my body filling my boots which squelch when I walk. I start putting up an IV line, but I’m thick-fingered with my double gloves. I can’t see very well out of my steamed-up windows, so I do the right thing and pass it over. However, this is just mid-morning, and I dread to think what the ward rounds are like in the middle of the African Heat. Eventually I stagger to the doffing area. The doffing monitors are the Kings of the Ebola centres; they have no qualifications, little literacy, but in the doffing station they have all the power. With their chlorine sprayers on their back, they are the ones who will de-contaminate me and get me safely through to the other side.


Ebola really is a terrible disease: pain; fever; exhaustion; confusion; diarrhoea and vomiting; and bleeding. Safi, the older woman, has against expectations improved from her near-moribund state yesterday. Isatu, the younger woman, who was well on admission deteriorated yesterday, but after ramping up treatment she’s showing some signs of improvement. On this morning’s ward rounds she was really distressed: she says that she is not worried about her own life – about dying from Ebola – but she is worried about her children. Her 5-month old daughter died last month, but her other children are now abandoned at home with no one to support them. Meanwhile, Ibrahim, the one we were least worried about, has deteriorated rapidly. He is confused and almost catatonic, a zombie-like state of late-Ebola. During the first 36 hours since our Ebola Treatment Centre opened, these 3 patients were jostling for position on the critical list, but today it is Ibrahim that looks most likely to die.


There is a maxim for Ebola hospitals, and that is to expect the unexpected. This afternoon we were taken by complete surprise when two ambulances turned up in quick succession. It is the second that causes the greatest problem. On the adult-sized stretcher lies a tiny 2-year old girl, silent with fear. There are now 7 of us in full personal protective equipment. I pick her up in my arms; I know there is a risk that she may pull at my goggles, but she is so small, so fragile, so afraid , that I cannot resist.

She clings to me with the reflex of a toddler, and the stoicism of an African child. She is beautiful. I asked the ambulance nurse about the child. We have no name, no parents, no record, no history. The nurse had been at the primary healthcare clinic when the child

The story is that her mother has Ebola. The story is that her mother is here in our hospital.


On the afternoon ward round, I find Ibrahim unresponsive. It is difficult to feel a pulse with the double-gloving, and it is difficult to check his pupils with my fogged up goggles, but it doesn’t take long to conclude that he is dead: our first Ebola fatality. I stretch out his arms and his legs, and I cover him in a blanket. The chlorine sprayer is twitchy as she washes y hands, and she drops her sprayer. She knows that Ebola is most dangerous at death, and she is scared of the body. And after the close contact that I have had, she is fearful of me. A sudden sadness descends on the team. Ibrahim was young and fit, and almost symptomless on admission. Ebola is an unpredictable grim reaper.


It’s my last morning in Moyamba, and I have just heard great news back from the laboratory: our first negative Ebola test from one of our patients. It’s Safi, a woman in her 60s who was very close to death when we admitted her. This means that we have our first survivor just one week after opening. The first of many I hope. How do you cure Ebola? One patient at a time. I couldn’t have wished for a better souvenir

‘Moyamba’ is Mende for ‘send for us’, which they did. We turned up far too late to the starting line for this life and death race, but we have arrived in time to make a contribution. Our Ebola hospital will isolate and care for the last patients on the bumpy tail of this epidemic, and our work with the community will help stop spread. The real heroes of this struggle are not the international community, but the health workers in the communities of Sierra Leone who have fought and died on the front-line of this terrible war. I leave full of admiration for their bravery; Sierra Leone: Lions on the Mountain”


The radio piece was originally broadcast on Radio 4 on 24th February of this year, and is available here.

Thanks to the Dr. John Wright and the BBC for providing such a compelling listen.

Following this is a short aerial video of the Moyamba Ebola Treatment Centre where Dr. John Wright worked – it really shows the scale of the operation going on there. 

Curing Ebola, one patient at a time.

Click to view video here.