The Fog. I’n not sure if I will reach the “valley of despair” today or tomorrow, but it is nearing for certain. The only thing more certain than that is that I’m uncertain about most everything else. My energy is drained and as a result my brain seems to be employing a “load-shedding” approach favoured by electric companies across the developing world, which is to say it’s off and on. I alternate between feeling quite smug (this isn’t too bad, he thinks to himself) and then completely shattered and out of it, with the latter clearly winning out on balance.
This is all to be expected from the shock to the system of cutting out 50% of my caloric intake and virtually all vitamins of any import, but I’d forgotten just how debilitating this is for day to day activities (just ask Kate who watched me cook my rice in silence last night because I wasn’t up to the multi-tasking of a conversation…) let alone work. Yet this is precisely what people living below the line in extreme poverty face not just for 3 days but indefinitely, as my colleague Beth reflected in her day 2 blog.
And from that thought comes a lot of clarity admist my fog.
Rising Above. This fog I’m feeling is only the faintest of hints at the type of fatigue and fog that our team in Sierra Leone has been fighting through for months. When the Ebola crisis broke back in May 2014, the UN and governments of the world essentially stuck their heads in the sand.
I remember sitting in Freetown in July 2014, 6 weeks after the announcement of Ebola and being told by the most senior officials that Ebola wasn’t as big a deal as we were claiming from our deep community presence, that we should stick to business as usual with a bit of Ebola training thrown in. It wasn’t just government either, many charities shut their doors, suspending work because they feared risk of Ebola was too much to handle.
Our teams took a different route. We never stopped for a day but rather scaled up our work in the face of this terrible outbreak. As this blog from James Fofannah, our Country Director in Sierra Leone, shows, it is the awesome power of a locally-led response, not just our international support, that is turning the tide in Sierra Leone.
Back to June 2015 – while the world prevaricated, we retrained and redeployed over 100 young people already leading our work in communities nationwide to deliver Ebola prevention work. Weeks later, we used unrestricted funds (the same type that Live Below the Line is generating) to roll out a massive operation in the 4 districts bordering the epi-centres mobilising communities to protect themselves.
We reached over 200,000 people in less than 2 months – but that would pale in comparison with our current operation that sees over 1700 social mobilisers volunteering to deliver Community-Led Ebola Action (a methodology created by Restless Development, now an industry standard being used by the UN and any major actors working in this space) that has reached over 7500 communities and more than half of the people in Sierra Leone (>3 million) in partnership with the likes of the Centre for Disease Control, BBC Media Action, Goal and Focus 1000.
This is life-saving action on a massive scale, led by young Sierra Leoneans and the communities they trigger, and making a significant proven impact in accelerating the drive to zero.
It has not come easily. Most of our staff were working 7 day weeks for months while we grappled with the rapid scale of demand and need for our work; our Country Director has only now taken a day or two off…after 9 months. Not to mention that many of these staff will have already known extreme poverty themselves at some point in their lives and have survived a horrific civil war even before Ebola began. Yet, they are still bringing this energy to bring Ebola to zero.
And so when I think about the fog of Living Below the Line, it is insignificant at best. Insignificant but sufficient. Sufficient to remind me of why I am inspired daily by the courage, commitment and drive of the people who lead our work not just in Sierra Leone but globally. And so foggy as I may be, I’m feeling more inspired than anything. I hope you are too, because your support is a huge part of making our work here at Restless Development happen.
Perry Maddox is Restless Development’s COO and is joining the rest of the staff in the London office in the Live Below The Line challenge this week. You can donate here.