Alhaji Kamara is grieving. He survived Ebola but lost his two daughters, both parents and two brothers. Now he drives around Freetown and shares his knowledge to prevent others from catching the disease. - Photo: William Vest-Lillesøe

By:

William Vest-Lillesøe

In Sierra Leone, the death toll from Ebola has been falling week by week since January 2015. But new cases are still emerging. Meet some of the people IBIS supports in the fight against Ebola.

The sun rises over the cemetery in a hazy filter of desert dust. The annual Harmattan winds blow warm hugs from the Sahara down to Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, while sinewy young men dig square graves for the cemetery's new residents. Hundreds of dirt mounds with simple wooden crosses already stretch the capacity to its limits.

The day’s first text message ticks in: 12 deaths and 14 new infections. Sad news but far below the gloomy numbers of just a few months ago.

"No one would accept our money"

At the other end of town, IBIS is serving breakfast at an abandoned construction site.

Samba Kamara scoops up his portion of potato leaf stew. He is a musician and activist, but when Ebola really took hold, he joined the teams that pick up and bury the dead. It is hard and dangerous work, and it is not made easier by the stigma attached to the job. Samba was kicked out of his home because the neighbours are afraid of infection.

"And before, we often worked all day without food and water. No one would take our money so we could buy nothing, "says Samba Kamara.

IBIS' Alliance2015 partner, the Irish NGO Concern Worldwide, coordinates the funeral work while IBIS takes care of the catering. It can be dangerous if the workers do not get a proper meal: Hunger and thirst easily lead to sloppiness and increases the risk of mistakes.

Samba's colleague is calling: It's time to pick up the first body of the day.

Mobile messengers

Elsewhere in the city, a line has formed at a petrol station. At the back of the queue of motorcycles is Alhaji Kamara. His lifeless eyes look away while he talks.

"The doctor said it's a miracle that I am alive. My father, mother, brothers and two daughters are all dead," he says.

Alhaji Kamara worked at his father's clinic when he contracted Ebola. Now, two months later, he works as a motorcycle driver. Motorcycle taxis know every corner of the country and have great influence by virtue of their numbers. Therefore, IBIS, together with the Bike Riders’ Union, has involved them in the fight against Ebola. Equipped with t-shirts and megaphones, they spread information about Ebola and about the school radio that the Ministry of Education runs in cooperation with IBIS and other NGOs.

"If we had known more about Ebola, my family might be alive today. So it is important for me to tell others how to avoid the disease, "says Alhaji. He forces a smile before he roars out into the city on his motorcycle.

My friend is buried in the mass grave

"Over there lies my friend," says Samba Kamara, who is back at the cemetery. He points to a number of wooden crosses. "Unknown", is written on them.

"I did not know he was sick before we were called to his home. He was laid in a mass grave. At that time there was no time for proper burials. "

Samba stands among the graves in the waning evening light and carefully takes off the yellow protective suit. Today he fetched two bodies. A few weeks ago it was six or seven a day.

"You really sweat in these suits," he says and pulls off the third layer of protective gloves.

"How is it going?" Shouts a colleague across the graves.

"Ebola don don!" Shouts Samba laughing and throws out his arms. "Ebola is over."

Not quite. New people are still infected every day, but the situation has turned a corner, and with the efforts of Samba, Alhaji and thousands of others, this battle must be won.

FACTS

IBIS in Sierra Leone helps the fight against Ebola through:

  • Support to develop radio lessons and coordination and planning in the reopening of schools.
  • Support to market women to improve hygiene at markets and share knowledge about Ebola and radio lessons for children and youth.
  • Distribution of educational materials and radios for local study groups.
  • Supplying the stigmatised burial workers with a daily meal.
  • Working with up to 10,000 motorcycle taxis to spread information, encourage peace and stability, and informing about education through radio and TV.
  • Work with Oxfam to support their work to combat Ebola.

IBIS in Liberia also has an Ebola programme. Read more here.

     

    Comments