Christian Aid / 06 NOV 2014 – Caring for the poor, proclaiming Christ amid occult and Islamist influences, and assisting amputees who suffered atrocities in a civil war (1991-2002) was challenging enough for a locally based ministry in Sierra Leone. Then came Ebola.
In the impoverished West African country, where life expectancy is only 47 years, the rapid spread of the Ebola virus has stretched ministry workers striving to support grieving and suffering families.
“There are hundreds of families around us that have lost loved ones,” said the director of a ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission. “Besides the loss of loved ones – some families lose more than one member of their family to Ebola – those who suffer loss are then subjected to further psychological and physical suffering, as they are immediately subjected to isolation from the rest of the community for a period of 21 days.”
In the communal way of life in Sierra Leone, a quarantined compound with three houses accommodating about 12 families – a total of 50 or more people – is now a common sight. Neighboring houses are also quarantined. Thus there are hundreds of families quarantined in the capital city of Freetown and elsewhere.
Ebola has crippled jobs and food supplies, as businesses and farms fall prey to the epidemic, leaving the government ill-equipped to meet vast needs. The government is providing some rations, but they fall far short of the overwhelming needs the crisis has created.
“Most farmers have been hindered from doing their usual farming activities, as this attack started at the start of the rainy season,” the ministry director said. “This has caused foodstuffs to be scarce, and foods do not come down to the city because most parts of the country are quarantined.”
As a result, most food is imported and expensive, often double the usual cost, and many people cannot afford it. As most businesses have scaled back production, many people have been laid off, and even those who are employed are not receiving their salaries regularly.
The ministry began a feeding program for people affected by the Ebola crisis two months ago, when a 14-year-old girl fainted from hunger during a church worship service.
“The pastor had to send someone to buy some food for her, and then she revived,” he said. “We have since then been doing the little we can to help the situation, but we are limited and stretched out.”
The ministry also has been sending money via bank transfers to areas of quarantine in the provinces, as area churches are limited in their outreach to Ebola victims due to drops in congregational offerings.
In the near term, the ministry plans to provide rice, cooking oil, onions and sugar to at least 50 families, “provided we have the means,” said the director. “Our greatest needs are finances to purchase foodstuffs to distribute to our people – both those of our church fellowship and some in the communities where our churches are located. We will need $4,000 to $5,000 at least, as the need is great.”
Along with funds to provide food, the ministry also seeks assistance to buy medicines and chlorine, used as a disinfectant. Chlorine is used to disinfect areas where people have died, and people are urged to keep a special bucket of chlorinated water for washing their hands.
“Every congregant must wash their hands before entering our services and is tested with a thermometer,” he said. “The slum community of Kroo Bay, where we have one of our oldest churches, is highly populated and needs to have more points with such buckets with chlorinated water.”
Chlorine is expensive, he said; a bottle of 200 tablets costs about $40.
“The bucket, too, is now very costly,” he added. “All of these are limitations, and poverty is also a factor for the spread of the virus. We need as much as 40 cups of chlorine for our church meetings, distribution to our members, and for use in the Kroo Bay community. This will cost about $1,200.”
The director thanked donors for their support.
“We are praying that our God will provide all we need at this time, and that He blesses all our friends,” he said.
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