I have been asked this question by both Sierra Leonean and Liberian Diaspora as I am from both of these countries. I also note that the comment pages following Ebola articles are rife with the question – What are ‘they’ doing for themselves?
I will get to what the Diaspora are doing later. The helping ourselves question is a tough one. There is no one I know who would like us as Africans to be in a position where we appear to be so helpless, where our health systems are breaking down, our economies collapsing and our children not being educated due to schools being closed.
Unfortunately, Ebola is a worldwide problem. Yes, we need help caring for our sick but more importantly; western intervention will help stop the spread around the world. So Ebola is not just Africa’s problem, it is the world’s problem.
No matter how much we complain about bad governance in Africa , the fact that western governments were slow to act and what could have been, the situation is what it is today. Every hour 5 more people contract Ebola in Sierra Leone. The talk of what could have been takes time. We will hopefully take that learning forward but for now we need the help of other countries to stop this nightmare that is Ebola.
This leads me to the Diaspora. I cannot talk much for the Liberian Diaspora. I have limited knowledge of what efforts are in place. I can say there are Sierra Leoneans who are incredibly committed and passionate to do their bit for the Ebola crisis. Now I am not saying everyone is doing what is the ‘right’ thing in times like these but if governments and international organisations could not get it right immediately then individuals need to be cut some slack.
There are two sides at play here, many in the Diaspora do not trust what is being done by other Sierra Leoneans. Fighting the Ebola fight can sometimes be met with criticism from our own communities and you are deemed to be jumping on the Ebola bandwagon. This I find strange. Do we say that Bono, Bill Gates or any influential person that has had a cause jumped on a bandwagon? Or is that term only for individuals with a passion to help but do not possess the world stage?
Well, I ask for that bandwagon to slow down and I will jump on it. If giving my time to be part of groups full of of dedicated, passionate individuals from the Diaspora, who give time and effort to Ebola, then I know I would rather be on their side than on the side of apathy. I may not know of all the efforts being made by Sierra Leoneans, particularly in the US but the Diaspora in the UK has not been lethargic to Ebola and there are so many examples of how people have mobilised efforts.
For a start, more treatment centres are being built, more beds are available for sick patients but without health care professionals they are useless. The NHS has agreed to cover full pay and benefits for all NHS workers that take the time to work in Sierra Leone. A team from the Sierra Leonean Diaspora driven by the charity SLWT has tirelessly worked the recruitment drive on.
UK-MED with the help of this team are recruiting for healthcare workers to join the Ebola teams in Sierra Leone. If anyone reading this is a healthcare professional and wants to give a minimum of 4 weeks to go and help, please go to http://www.uk-med.org.
Another example is that a few weeks ago the Sierra Leonean government declared a three day lockdown to ensure that cases of Ebola were found and for citizens to be better educated. No one could go out without a pass. You can imagine what that would be like in the UK even with our fridges and larders.
There are a lot of communities that live on the hustle of daily life. They get food depending on what they do on that day, so a lockdown was going to cause hunger in these communities.
One Sierra Leonean in the Diaspora, Memuna, was not going to let people go hungry. She came up with an idea to provide meals to some of these communities. In less than two weeks she had organised with local charities on the ground, set up a team to cook and deliver food and managed to distribute 2600 meals safely. No mean feat. She worked day and night to get this done. I know because once she told me her idea I joined her cause. (or bandwagon as some might say).
The success of this has led to the birth of Lunchboxgift. We have formed this charity to provide lunchbox meals in time of crisis. Though borne out of the Ebola crisis we aim to grow this into an organisation that can provide lunchboxes anywhere they are needed.
In Sierra Leone the usual practice is for families to bring in food to the sick in hospitals. As you can imagine, that cannot happen in the treatment centres for Ebola. Our next project is one that will feed lunch every day to Ebola patients and local staff in the treatment centres in the Western area of Sierra Leone.
As this requires many hands on board, we have teamed up the diaspora led charity Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty who mostly work in Uganda, a country that understands the fight against Ebola. This will enable us to pool resources and skills within the broader diaspora network
If anyone wants to support us getting our lunchboxes to people that need food, a basic requirement to survive, then please go to http://www.mycharitypage.com/LunchBox and find out more.
I could continue with more examples but it will be too long a blog. What is clear is Ebola needs the world to fight it. From large-scale operations only governments can provide to single individuals who can make a difference.