As part of our #MoreThanEbola Series, highlighting the efforts of young people in the fight against Ebola on the anniversary of the first case in Sierra Leone, we speak to two returned UK International Citizen Service volunteers who are still in contact with the friends they made in Sierra Leone.Daniella Joseph and Angela Stoddard both volunteered in the Bo region in the south of Sierra Leone back in 2013. Through WhatsApp, Facebook and email they’ve kept in touch with the friends they made there and shown solidarity as Sierra Leonean communities fight back against the virus. Here’s what they had to say.
What is your favourite memory of working in Sierra Leone?
Daniella: I’ll always remember the passion, energy and kindness of the people of Sierra Leone. One time I was facilitating a class of children and this particular class had about 100 pupils. Every single one of them was well-behaved, had a burning desire to learn and made an excellent contribution to the lessons. Angela: Teaching 500 children in one Junior class the Banana song with actions and having them sing it back to me!
What have you talked about with the people you’ve kept in contact with?
Daniella: I have kept in contact with many people that I worked with and met in the community. We talk about a variety of things: general conversations about how they are, how our current work and studies are going (although these been restricted with the Ebola crisis), football, the general Ebola response and the situation in the country. I have also been trying to offer support and words of encouragement. Angela: They are my friends and will be for a long time. We talk about day to day things, upcoming events like birthdays and the Ebola crisis and how it and the times when everyone has had to stay inside has affected them.
How have the people you are talking to been coping with the ebola crisis?
Daniella: With difficulty. Many have developed health problems as a result of the crisis, including heart palpitations and anxiety/panic attacks. But they have found that talking to others such as health professionals, pastors, friends etc have helped to alleviate some of their stress. Despite the worries of living in fear of this disease, being restricted in their travel and the increasing cost of goods, many have still remained positive and are grateful to be alive. They have tried their best to cope under these challenging conditions until things improve. Angela: It’s been very hard. My friends have told me about seeing dead bodies in the street and sick people that others were afraid to touch. None of my friends have died but one lost relatives. One friend who managed to get into Farah Bay College (University) to study Sociology (a massive achievement as has been an orphan for a long time) told myself of his despair as the University closed. Only 100 000 people out of 6 million in Sierra Leone have formal jobs and none of my friends have been able to secure one that is long term after working on the ICS Programme. A few friends took part in Restless Development’s Education Programme during the Ebola Crisis and enjoyed it.
Since your volunteering experience, what have you been doing in the UK to take action on what you’ve seen?
Daniella: Since I have returned to the UK I have done presentations at several schools, talking about ICS and my experiences in Sierra Leone. I have joined global health societies at my university where I have continued to take action and campaign on issues related to health, education etc. This has been through film screenings, focus groups to talk about wider issues etc, just to spread the word around uni and start a discussion. Angela: I have become an International Liaison for my school Allawallie International Academy in Bo. Initially I was contacting charities for funding and equipment but now I am updating the school with Ebola news from around the world and providing my faith and support.
Finally, do you think there’s any chance you might meet up with your Sierra Leonean friends again soon?
Daniella: I would love to go back to Sierra Leone one day and meet up with the friends that I made. Hopefully I will go back in the not-too-distant future. Angela: I tried to fly back in 2014 but unfortunately a broken foot prevented this. It may have been a blessing in disguise as I was due to fly there in June 2014 when the Ebola crisis was prevalent but not declared in the news. I do want to go back one day but my safety comes first and I will wait until the country is declared Ebola free as this disease has no current cure.