Mohamed Sillah is a busy man. The Executive Director of Action Aid Sierra Leone is responsible for the organisation’s many country programmes. I first met him during my visit there in 2010 when the talk was about plans for education, women’s rights and development.
But that was then. To-day Mohamed is pre-occupied with helping communities recover from the effects of the Ebola crisis. That means additional work for Action Aid, and more work requires more money.
I caught up with Mohamed at Action Aid’s London office en route back home from a fundraising trip to the USA. These were some of the things he shared with me:
The major issue behind the spread of Ebola was denial. When many people felt unwell they wondered off into the bush rather than present themselves to the health authorities because they believed the injections would kill them. The poorest of the poor suffered most because they did not understand Ebola or how it spread. The middle class who understood the issue and practised hygiene were at much less risk.
However things improved thanks to the intensive educational and support effort. Around half the 8705 cases confirmed by laboratory analysis survived (the WHO suspect the total number who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone is over 14,000). Action Aid has been working in Sierra Leone for 25 years and reach 182 communities through child sponsorship programmes. This has established trust and credibility with local people. This was crucial to the effectiveness of the Ebola response mobilisation work. By participating in the Government led campaign Acton Aid took on additional responsibility, reaching 238 communities involving over 100,000 people, mostly women and children, in some of the most at risk areas. The result was a great success with just 4 cases of Ebola.
During and since the crisis Action Aid has provided support to affected communities and individuals. This includes distributing food and clothes to 7,000 sponsored children and 700 quarantined households; taking soap into schools and teaching the importance of hand washing and hygiene; and educating teachers in how to deal with a child showing signs of Ebola. Since the schools re-opened no children have been infected.
Action Aid supported the Government in assessing children most in need, resulting in 2100 orphans and vulnerable children being given exercise and reading books, writing materials and school bags.
Post Ebola the strengthening of people’s livelihoods is key to recovery. Special focus is given to providing agricultural seeds and tools, livestock, husbandry training, and grants for women to start small businesses.
During the crisis all schools were closed – along with markets, night clubs, mines and other areas of social and economic life where people gathered together. The Government broadcast school lessons over the radio and Action Aid paid a small fee to teachers to visit communities and houses to ensure students participated.
35,000 workers were involved in the Ebola response effort. These included many teachers who changed jobs when the schools were closed. They received 500,000 leones a week (about £80), the same as they received in a month as teachers. As a result many were slow to return to school. Now that the Ebola response force has been reduced to a couple of thousand employees, and teachers have been given a 15% pay rise, more have returned.
Holding the Government to account and pushing for increased health care expenditure is a priority for Action Aid. The devastating effects of Ebola reflect both the ignorance of the poor and the inability of the rudimentary health care system to deal with it.
The Government has started a pilot social security project in a few communities providing basic income to those most in need- orphans, widows and those with no family members to support them. Dealing with Ebola survivors, and enabling them to be empowered economically, is a key objective.
And with that Mohamed was whisked away to another urgent meeting in a busy schedule. A man making progress on a vitally important mission.