A new adventure, by invitation
Sierra Leone has been in the news, and not in a good way. Following years of civil war, fuelled by the illegal diamond trade, the small West African nation was hit by Ebola. And, as if that weren’t enough, the capital, Freetown, recently suffered devastating mudslides.
Network for Africa enjoys a challenge, and Sierra Leone is our new frontier. The success of our trauma counselling work in Uganda led to an invitation to begin a partnership with a grass roots group in Sierra Leone. We were asked to bring our unique approach – training local people to be community counsellors – and we begin in January.
The legacy left by Ebola
Any challenge we encounter, starting afresh in a new country, is as nothing compared to the everyday difficulties faced by local people. Out of a population of six million, there were 14,000 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Of those 14,000, almost 4,000 people died. And 12,000 children were left as orphans, without support. When bread-winners died, entire families lost their homes and possessions.
Moreover, the country’s ranks of health professionals were devastated by the disease. What is often forgotten is that many Ebola survivors will have health problems for the rest of their lives. They, and their families, also face stigma because superstition and fear persist. Their isolation and anxiety make it hard to find work. The slide into poverty may be accompanied by alcoholism and domestic violence, just as it is in the Western world.
In the wake of the civil war
Sierra Leone endured a decade of civil conflict, fueled by war lords, intent on stripping the country of its natural resources. There were 70,000 casualties, but many more survivors were left traumatized by what they had witnessed. The World Health Organization estimates almost a quarter of a million people suffer from serious depression and anxiety. Yet, in the entire country there is only one psychiatrist (retired), one working for the army, 19 mental health nurses and one child psychologist (in private practice).
Our project will work to strengthen the existing health system, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. We will start by training seven counsellors/counselors who will be based at health clinics. We will also organize hundreds of community education sessions, reaching district health officials, health workers, midwives, clan leaders, traditional healers, local chiefs and religious leaders. One of our aims will be to dispel the myths about depression, Ebola and epilepsy, and to prepare community leaders to identify people needing support. Another goal is to prepare our counsellors/counselors to run monthly mental health clinics at health centres/centers.
We look forward to sharing our experiences in Sierra Leone, but please consider helping us with your support. Please click here to donate. Thank you.