Relief aid needed for Ebola victims in Kwama

The Society of African Missions (SMA) was founded in Lyons, France in 1856 by Bishop Marion deBrésillac with the aim of evangelizing Africa and people of African origins. We now work in 16 African countries and our members come from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Our Founder died in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 25 June 1859, just six weeks after his arrival on the African continent. The SMA presence in Sierra Leone was short-lived. Our missionaries moved further along the west coast to Dahomey [modern-day Benin] and from there we spread out to evangelize Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

Sierra Leone

For many years SMA members thought to “return to their roots” in Sierra Leone, even if only to have a presence in the country that first welcomed our missionaries. Eventually three SMA priests were appointed to establish an SMA presence in a rural parish, Kwama, about 50kms from Freetown.

The Republic of Sierra Leone is bordered by Guinea to the northeast, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest with a tropical climate, ranging from savannah to rainforests. Sierra Leone has a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and with an estimated population of 6 million (2011 United Nations estimate). Freetown is the capital, largest city, and its economic and political centre.

Kwama

Kwama is a farming village and most of the villagers are displaced from other parts of the country due to the civil war. They engage in small scale subsistence farming, burning charcoal and palm wine tapping. Kwama is affectionately called “Community of communities” due to the fact that it is surrounded by 14 other villages for which we are also responsible. Unfortunately, all these villages were affected by the civil war, leaving behind so many young orphans, and the rest of the population living in abject poverty, unable to afford even one square meal a day. Majority of the youths (between the ages of 12- 25 years) which form the bulk of the population, now engage in the plantation of Marijuana and excessive drinking of Palm wine resulting in so many social vices such as theft, rape, teenage pregnancies, and the like.

This situation challenges us, the SMA team in this parish. Our people are both materially and spiritually challenged, unable to afford daily meals, unable to afford even basic education, let alone having ample time for spiritual formation.

Prior to our arrival this community was taken care of by one Xaverian Missionary from Scotland. He was the one who organized the Kwama settlement and the opening of its church As a result the people relied on him for assistance in order to make a living.

The SMA mission in Kwama

For the SMA our involvement in Kwama meets one of our basic objectives: working in an area of primary evangelization [where the announcement of the Gospel is still in its earliest stage]. We are engaged in running a school and several churches in the different villages.

With the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, we have had to get involved in distributing food, water and helping to transport these basic goods to those under quarantine.

The effects of the quarantine

The government has put suspected affected towns and villages under quarantine for 21 days.

During this period, these people are not allowed to go out thereby making it very difficult for them to get food, water and other basic needs. Nor does the government provide anything for these people to survive on during these quarantine periods. Everyone is affected by the quarantine, there are no exceptions. Each one is vulnerable and needs assistance.

As of November we’re caring directly for 240 people (men, women and children). Our priests travelled to a particular village which was under quarantine. They had no food of clean water. Fr Patrikson SMA writes: “We bought 50 packets of water [20 bottles x 500ml] and distributed them to 74 people in the area. We did the same in another place with 109 people. Later we decided to buy 22 bags of rice [25kgs each] for distribution to the people. The number of areas being placed under quarantine increases on a daily basis. We do not just go and distribute. We study the situation before we do anything and only help those areas that are not receiving help from anyone else. The police, soldiers and the health workers in these areas are fully supportive and helpful.”

What needs to be done

We need to buy and distribute several basic goods – food, water, rain gear and covers, items for personal hygiene.

We estimate that each person will need help for 30 days [21 days quarantine and 9 days for social reinsertion]. Using $2 a day per person our present group of 240 people gives us a total of $14,400 [= €11,550 or £9,200]

Since the beginning of our relief work, health and authorities have been involved in every step of the process. The police and the military accompany the distribution vans and ensure that the items reach the affected people. Within the parish we have a group of young people who work as volunteers to load and offload items at the distribution points.

Can you please help us?

If you want to help the SMA work with Ebola victims in Sierra Leone please donate online at www.sma.ie or send what you can to
SMA Development Office, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork.

Thank you for your generosity.