Thanksgiving came early for me this year. I hadn’t planned my trip to be in Sierra Leone on the day the country was declared Ebola free. But I was grateful it worked out that way.
November 9th, the actual day, was quiet and rather anticlimactic. This chiefdom, like much of the country, hadn’t had an Ebola case since mid-January – ten months ago. November 9th was a day for reflection, to remember those who lost their lives, especially health care workers. It was a day to give thanks that the chiefdom and the country were delivered from this scourge.
Bumpeh Chiefdom’s Ebola Committee decided at the last minute to have a small ceremony while I was still in the country to thank Sherbro Foundation for our support in their Ebola fight.
I was honored to accept their thanks on behalf of all Sherbro Foundation donors who came forward to help during Ebola’s darkest days.
One by one, leaders of the community came forward to thank Sherbro Foundation. An Imam and a Christian minister offered prayers, with people joining in to recite both.
A representative of village chiefs and a section chief were grateful SF funded over 300 hand washing stations they set up early when no other funding was coming. These were the chiefdom leaders on the front line as the epidemic was spreading. A year ago, it was unclear how easily the Ebola virus could be transferred with casual contact. It was a frightening time and people avoided each other. They didn’t know who they could trust.
The Local Councilor and Chiefdom Speaker were grateful SF stayed in touch throughout the outbreak and just asked, how can we help. When the Ebola Committee recognized they needed a more aggressive approach to keeping Ebola from entering their chiefdom, SF quickly responded. They thanked us for funding them to staff checkpoints, do house to house checks in every village and stop unsafe burials.
Paramount Chief Caulker has been vocal throughout that the chiefdom could not have done what they did without Sherbro Foundation support.
But as I was accepting their thanks, I was silently thinking, who’s more grateful? Them, or me?
I was grateful lives were spared and my friends were safe.
I was grateful SF could play a role in enabling this chiefdom to become a model for the rest of the country in stopping Ebola. I was never more proud to be part of an organization’s work than when I saw the dramatic 80% drop in Ebola cases last January as chiefdoms around the country implemented programs like Bumpeh Chiefdom’s.
I was grateful to work with our remarkable partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation who volunteer their efforts to protect and now develop their chiefdom. They shifted from fighting Ebola to reopening schools closed for nine months to restarting our projects without missing a beat – all within a few months.
I was grateful to see children back in school – and more Bumpeh Chiefdom girls in secondary school than ever before.
I was grateful to go to the new community bank and see 1249 new savings accounts opened for newborn babies that can grow to fund their future education – more baby accounts than adult accounts.
I was grateful to see the computer center built during the Ebola outbreak finished. The floors are tiled floors and it’s wired for power we’ll bring over from a nearby solar system. Come February, we should be able to start initial computer and adult literacy classes.
I was grateful to see our dream of transforming the chiefdom by planting fruit trees is becoming reality. 15,000 tree seedlings were planted this year that will transform six villages economically and environmentally. I saw thousands more fruit trees started from seed growing in two tree nurseries, awaiting planting in next year’s village orchards. And plans to start thousands more in January – February.
I was grateful to see firsthand the work spreading to the community level. More than a hundred people in six villages took ownership to clear 10-20 acres each and plant their community orchards. Orchards that will provide income for them to build schools, dig wells, send their children to school and protect the environment for years to come.
All this had been done, in spite of the Ebola crisis.
I think most people just want to feel they’ve made a difference in the world and someone’s life has improved because of their efforts.
I had ample evidence on this trip that Sherbro Foundation’s collaboration with Bumpeh Chiefdom was doing just that.
This work gets done because of the generosity of Sherbro Foundation’s donors. We are deeply grateful for all you have done to make this possible.
So, when you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table this year giving thanks, pat yourself on the back for reaching out and making a difference in Sierra Leone. I’ll be thinking of you and thanking you again.
——- Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director