, 12 September, 2020 / 11:08 PM
Some 50 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone, all of them bearing the scars of the disease that killed at least 3,000 people in the west African country, gathered at Hastings town in the rural area of the country to sign up for different business ventures in a project designed by the charity arm of the Archdiocese of Freetown to restore dignity among the survivors.
The Wednesday, September 9 event was a culmination of a market survey assessment that Caritas Freetown was engaged in last month to identify suitable business ventures for the Ebola survivors who lost their sources of livelihoods in the aftermath of the 2014-2016 epidemic that left thousands in Sierra Leone with irreversible damages.
In an interview with ACI Africa on Thursday, September 10 following the handing over of business equipment to the 50 beneficiaries of the entrepreneurship project, Caritas Sierra Leone Programs Manager, Ishmeal Charles said the businesses are aimed at providing the survivors with sources of income and restoring their dignity and socio-economic well-being.
He said that though a lot had been done to deal with societal stigma among survivors who suffer from different health complications, including hearing loss, early menopause, persistent headaches and more than ten other complications, a lot still needed to be done to ensure that the survivors had sources of livelihood.
“Many people still ask us why we are still working with Ebola survivors. The answer is simple, they survived the virus but were left with many untold challenges and complications that ranges from losing their breadwinners, inconsistent health issues, economic deprivation and social exclusion, years after the country was declared free of Ebola,” Charles told ACI Africa.
He added, “With a lot of education, the stigma has died out but no one cares about the socio-economic realities of the survivors.”
The beneficiaries of the initiative were drawn from a number of towns in Western Area Rural and Urban Districts in Sierra Leone, including Grafton, Waterloo, Allentown, Calaba town, Mount Auroel, Looking Town, Goderich, and Portee.
The identified Ebola survivors were handed bags of rice, gallons of palm oil, gallons of vegetable oil, bags of onions, enamel wares, plastic ware, bags of sugar, provisions and soft drinks to start their ventures.
Beneficiaries of the project were also offered money to invest in perishable products that had not been purchased by the time they appended their signatures for the businesses.
The selection of the beneficiaries, according to Charles, was done after a thorough vulnerability assessment and verification process was completed. A training was also done to equip the new entrepreneurs with skills to run their various start-ups, he told ACI Africa September 10.
Caritas Freetown’s target area has about 1,500 Ebola survivors. Out of this population, some 800 survivors are most vulnerable, according to the leadership of the charity group that has been running a number of projects to sustain them.
Initially, Caritas Freetown ran a feeding program for the Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, providing rice to the families several times a month.
To ensure a more sustainable support for the survivors, the charity arm of the Archdiocese of Freetown partnered with Caritas Germany, embarking on “Enhancing Ebola survivors income generating and educational opportunities project in the western area Sierra Leone,” which provided psychological support, healthcare services and livelihood support to the survivors.
In its initial stages, the project equipped women in the western part of Sierra Leone with technical skills in catering, event decor and cosmetology. Graduates from the program have proceeded to establish their businesses while the rest have landed jobs in high-end restaurants, Charles told ACI Africa.
Other components of the project included educational support to school going children of Ebola survivors and provision of healthcare services to 1,000 Ebola survivors, widows, orphans and children of Ebola survivors.
“The 50 women who have been handed business ventures make up the sixth batch of survivors that we are providing livelihood related support for, totaling to about 300 survivors reached so far through livelihood engagement,” the Caritas Freetown official said.
For the first four months, he added, Caritas officials will be monitoring the beneficiaries’ business ventures consistently until December when the charity organization will be satisfied that the beneficiaries have mastered the skill in their various businesses to be able to manage themselves.
“We are also encouraging them to embrace saving and we’ll be collecting monthly savings from them and reviewing them on a weekly basis. We have outreach officers that have been trained to support them through the process,” the Programs Manager said during the September 10 interview.
The September 9 event was marked by a training where the beneficiaries were taken through various topics related to start-ups and encouraged to be serious with their monthly contributions.
“We’ll keep records. And at a final graduation ceremony, we’ll give them all they have been saving to help them grow their businesses. We’re hoping that by this time they will have opened a bank account where they will have developed the culture of saving unmonitored,” Charles further said of the project expected to end in December.
Caritas Freetown is, however, in discussions with Caritas Germany to have a more standardized three-year project in view of realizing a more elaborate transformation of the beneficiaries instead of the current short projects, the official divulged to ACI Africa September 10.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa