Sierra Leone during COVID-19

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Peace Child has been working in Sierra Leone since 2013 supporting vulnerable young women to develop sustainable businesses. In the current COVID-19 crisis the country has had a few hundred cases of the virus reported so far. Like many other developing countries, the challenges that were being experienced before the virus unfolded has left many people increasingly vulnerable.

In a Q&A with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr Mayor of the capital city of Sierra Leone explained how 47% of the city’s population does not have access to the running water needed for activities such as hand washing in order to protect against the spread of the virus due to lack of investment. Efforts to encourage social distancing have been made in the form of creating information in the local language to explain how social distancing works. Despite this, the mayor shared how in informal settlements many live in very small spaces with their families in close proximity to lots of people and so accommodating social distancing and self-isolation is a challenging task. This issue is intensified by the fact that many people rely on day to day work to earn their living and provide for their families.

In order to help reduce the spread of the virus in the city, a plan has been made to relocate and upgrade informal settlements as well as distribute 55 000 masks to the city’s residents. During a three-day lockdown, food was provided for the most vulnerable in 3 informal communities, but despite these efforts, the mayor made it clear that lack of money during the outbreak is a major challenge which will leave many struggling.

Whilst many areas across Africa are experiencing challenges like this in the effort to protect the population from the pandemic, encouragement can be felt with the knowledge that Africa is not defenceless in this difficult time. As Professor Robert Kappel of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Leipzig said in an interview with DW, “Africa is a continent that takes things into its own hands, in very different ways”.

This is not the first time the continent has faced the threats brought by infection and disease as the fight against Ebola, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS has affected many communities across the continent. Through these experiences, many communities have developed innovative ways of adapting to daily life and business due to illness. Several intellectuals, including Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka, have written two open letters calling to their governments to use the crisis as an opportunity to create a “fundamental, powerful and sustainable response” and emerge even stronger as a nation after the crisis has come to an end.

This amazing spirit is also seen in many African youths who have chosen to support their communities during the outbreak. Wevyn Muganda from Kenya took to the internet to help make sure other Kenyans knew the risk the virus imposed when the first case of it was found in her country. When it became evident to her many were still vulnerable, she and Suhayl Omar created ‘Mutual Aid Kenya’. This is a grassroots organisation which establishes support networks between communities in order to help nurture people’s wellbeing during the outbreak especially those who government systems do not fully protect.

The selfless action these youth have taken in order to support their communities is a reminder of the incredible value that is created when people work together to support and uplift each other. The aftermath of this pandemic will undoubtedly have harsh effects on many. The rising youth unemployment and uncertainty about the future are aspects which will need to be addressed and tackled so we can move forward together. Like the spirited youth striving to support those most vulnerable, we as an organisation are determined to support young people to overcome the difficulties they are facing.

This determination is especially prominent in the work we do with young women in Sierra Leone who are among the world’s most vulnerable people and will also be among those who are hit the hardest. This is because, for these young women, the skills and knowledge we teach could be the difference between being able to afford basic needs like food and medicine or not.

We would like to deeply thank you for the support you have given us in the past and for reading our blog posts as you have been the ones enabling us to help those who truly need it. Any support that can be given, now more than ever, no matter how small, is massively significant and greatly appreciated –

For more information from the Q&A with the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr click this link:

Written by Estelle Marsh

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