Refugees in thier own country, the future of Sierre Leone is at risk
- 85 Posts
- Age 25
When the Ebola virus hit my country Sierra Leone, thousands of lives were lost, the country came to a standstill, infrastructure, education, and economy all feeling the impact. Being forced to stay at home for long periods of time led to an increase in the school dropout rate and also increased the numbers of teenage pregnancies. On top of all of this we have been struck by another disaster: flooding. It rained so heavily on Wednesday 16th September 2015 that almost the entire city Freetown was flooded.
When the Ebola disease first invaded my country, the people in the slum area were more affected and have been the most affected by the flooding. In all about 8,000 people including children and pregnant and breastfeeding women are affected. Those who were the most affected ran to the National Stadium at West and Attouga Stadium at East of Freetown where emergency support has been provided by the government and other agencies like Plan, IRC, UNICEF, WHO, Save the children etc.
The Experience of the Most Vulnerable
During my visits at both locations, I saw children playing around but when I looked at their parents there were desperation and frustration especially with lactating mothers, pregnant women and adolescents who are worried of losing all educational materials and not knowing when they will be able to return to school. It pains me to see children who are supposed to go to school and in their class rooms roaming about with no shoes, famished and without good clothes. Children were struggling to get food, queuing for a long time unable to secure a meal and being pushed.
One of the victims explained how she has lost her four children during the flooding. According to her, “I went to town to buy our daily bread and when I returned there was no house and none of my children have been seen since that day.”
Another victim, also desperately explained how she has been worried and fear that she might lose her baby. According to her “when the rain overflowed us, my whole house was flooded and my two weeks baby was about to drown but fortunately was rescued by youths in the community. They held the child by her leg and drew her out of the water and at that time my baby was oozing water and helpless. “She added that she was worried about the child more than the properties and her life. This was not a very good scene.
The Role of YAP
For the past days I have been volunteering with Plan international Sierra Leone as part of the Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) to identity issues in the camps and make suggestions to management for decision making. One thing that I have been frustrated about is seeing some of the children affected that are not going to school and some will be taking the public examination to junior secondary schools in few days. Some have no idea what is going on.
About twenty-one youth volunteers have been involved in supporting children and working with other agencies to provide solidarity and psychosocial support. The youth volunteers have been visiting camps to identify issues and make suggestions to camp management and to Plan International Sierra Leone staff. They have been supporting children in the camp not attending school by organizing lesson for them. I spoke to one of the children taking exams she told me,” I will be taking exams this Saturday but I have lost everything include uniforms, shoes, pencil and other materials to support me take my exams.”
One of the recommendations we have made to the camp management at the Attouga Mini Stadium is that they ensure that child protection measures, including consent, are adhered to during photographs and any communication materials develop by any agency. Many people just enter the camp and take pictures and this is not good for the children and mothers who do not have proper clothing.
Also, when I see how overcrowded the area is, I fear that these people are at the risk of the Ebola virus and other diseases. Yesterday, I heard that one of the tents, with about 20 children and about 30 adults including pregnant and lactating mothers, was quarantined in the camp because of two suspected Ebola cases were identified. One of the affected people told my colleague, youth volunteer Emmanuel King 22, that “We are about sixty-eight in our own tent and it’s difficult for us”. Looking at the faces of the affected people you can see clearly how traumatized they are. Most affected are the inhabitants of the coastal slums and hill sides such as Kroo bay, old whalf, Culvert, george brooks that where hot spots areas of Ebola in Freetown.
There are many organizations responding already and we are delighted but more is needed to be done to support children. There is still a need for an early child development centers, adolescent spaces to support girls and most importantly government and other agencies need to ensure that an immediate support is given to relocate these people to a permanent local. “My heart is bitter to see that Sierra Leoneans are now refugees in their own country” another youth expressed.
This blog was written by Erika Bangura, 18, Member of the Youth Advisory Panel.
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