Friends of St Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired, Makeni, Sierra Leone
You may recall from our last newsletter that two of our trustees were visiting the school in February to see how the ebola crisis has affected it and to update all our supporters on the projects we have funded in the past. Here is their report:
The school is up and running again after the problems caused by Ebola. None of the staff or children appears to have contracted the disease although at the beginning of term there are always some children or staff who don’t return for unknown reasons. However most families have been affected and we heard a number of accounts where several extended family members have died. One young girl from the school was with her father, an ambulance driver, when he became unwell. Because of the instructions she had been given at the school she managed to keep everyone away from him. He later died and she may well have saved her family from getting the virus.
We inspected all the projects we have funded:
At the farm we saw all the new planting such as pineapples, oranges, yams, mangoes and papayas. The eggs are now being supplied to two supermarkets in Makeni every day. Another NGO was so impressed with the chicken project that the organisation paid for the capacity to be doubled so there is another hen house.
The new classrooms we helped to fund are used every day.
The out of hours resource centre is also well used both during the day and during the evenings and weekends.
The medical room is up and running and is a valuable resource to look after the health of the children. The school nurse Kadiatu proudly showed us round.
Sister Mary’s assistant Mercy has now come to the end of her contract. Sister has a new assistant called Hannah who is being funded by another NGO to work primarily at the university UNIMAK but is helping with work at the school. She is a Sierra Leonean and is very competent and efficient.
The containers have been converted on the site. One is being used as a canteen and is very successful. It is busy with breakfasts and lunches. Four of the oldest girls run it themselves and buy in all the ingredients from the market. Sister Antoinette keeps a check on them but they seem to manage very well on their own. The other container is used as a shop for the tailors who make a selection of clothes and bags. While we were staying there we met someone from Trocaire, an Irish NGO, who has been impressed by this project and hopes to build on it to increase the business skills of the carpenters, tailors, farmers and caterers, helping them to move into independence.
We had long discussions with Sister Mary about the next projects we should be funding. There are a number of areas in the school that need refurbishment and or/redevelopment. This includes new washing facilities and latrines. We are currently arranging to have plans drawn up and costed and once those are complete we are hoping to support the first phase of this project. Donations to support the school and Sister Mary’s work can be made through the Virgin Money Giving page: www.virginmoneygiving.com\charities\FriendsofStJosephs
If any of you would like to contribute an article that we can publish in a future edition of this newsletter we would love to hear from you. Please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org We try and publish a newsletter every six to eight weeks but without any paid staff that intention doesn’t always translate into reality! In between issues you can follow us on Facebook: (http://www.facebook.com/stjoskids) and Twitter: (www.twitter.com/Frnds_StJosKids) for all the up to date news.All good wishes from Linda Freestone (Chair) and all the trustees
It has been a while since we last gave you an update of how we’re doing here in Makeni. We hope and pray that you have started the year well.
Here in Makeni we were all very optimistic when the country started to record lower numbers of new cases and this trend has continued over the last couple of months countrywide. There are now four districts that have had no positive cases recorded for over the official 42 days. There are four other districts that now have 21 days with no new cases reported. They’re hoping to reach the 42 days as well. Unfortunately Bombali, where we live, is one of the six districts still struggling to get the new infection numbers down to nil but often it lasts for only a few days. The reason for all this is that people continue to move sick people out of the hotspot areas for native treatment. Families are still insisting on hiding the sick and involving traditional healers which is aiding the spread of the virus. Experts say that this pattern of troughs and spikes could continue to happen up to the end of August before we see an end to the new cases according to the chairperson of WHO. We hope this is the case because according to the latest reports, Sierra Leone has reported the lowest number of new cases for the first time since June 2014. The Government has decided that the whole country will now go into lock down for another three days from the 27th to the 29th March with a short break on Sunday between 7am and 2pm for Christians to attend Palm Sunday services and on Friday between 12pm. This will then be followed by the next three Saturdays of lock down when there will be no activities or trading between 6am and 6pm. This is the Government’s campaign to make sure that they get to zero infections in the next few weeks.
The President announced the reopening of schools and institutions and it has been decided that the higher education institutions will reopen on the 30th of March while the primary and secondary schools will reopen on the 14th April. Parents naturally are worried about their children going back to school as much as they desire for them to continue their progress in learning. The ideal situation would be to reopen when Ebola has ended but there’s great concern about the time that the schools have remained closed. There are plans in place to ensure that every institution is well prepared to protect its staff and students in the event of any cases arising. Touching is one of the cultural practices that have been hard to break and the worry is how to control it among the students. There is First Aid and psychosocial training for the teachers and there are training and workshops to prepare them for the reopening. One of the priorities is to have procedures in place as to how to identify and manage those that are unwell while at the same time making sure everyone in the school remains safe. Every school has to identify an isolation room in case of illness and temperatures will be taken every morning on entry to the school. Our borehole is a wonderful asset that will benefit St. Joseph’s schools during this time when hygiene is paramount. There will be 1500 students who will have easy access to the water for all their needs of drinking, hand washing and cooking. The government is supplying free education for two years in all schools as well as free food to be cooked in schools.
Loreto Clinic is now fully functional except for the laboratory services .The patients are still being referred to the government hospital and now to Holy Spirit that has a new laboratory for further investigations.
The Lab Technician is now undergoing some training with the Holy Spirit Team which will help him to be more qualified and help the lab facility to be reopened soon. The clinic continues to offer psychosocial support especially to Ebola survivors as well as to the patients who are suffering with mental health problems and those affected by Ebola. They have also been offering free medical support to all the Ebola survivors and their families the poor and the destitute. The babies under five years and who have survived from the Ebola virus are under the Malnutrition Program for food, and milk and Medical treatment. They are receiving free medical care as well as free milk and BenniMix (High Protein Diet). The children’s program is currently being funded by Irish Aid for 6 months which ends in May. GOAL which is an Irish NGO comes regularly to assess that the safety standards at the clinic are being maintained and each time they give us praise for our standards. The timely intervention of Irish Aid, Misean Cara, and our friends from the UK, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain have helped us to alleviate the sufferings of many of our patients and saved many babies lives. We continue to be very grateful and secure due to the generous donations which included the personal protective equipment, medicines and other equipment.
Holy Spirit Hospital has recently received a laboratory that will allow them to test for every virus including HIV, Hepatitis B and Ebola. A Team of Doctors and Scientists from Italy and Cameroon are here to train the Lab Technicians. They are offering what they call asero-survilance which enables them to establish whether antibodies found in an individual puts them at a higher or lower risk of Ebola depending on how long ago they were exposed to the virus. This will also help them in their studies of why some people who were previously exposed to the Ebola virus have ended up not getting ill, even though they have the antibodies in their system. More importantly Holy Spirit is now able to offer more services to the community as they are able to do thorough laboratory testing before doing invasive treatment. People are less afraid of going to hospital because now the risk of infection with Ebola while in hospital is much lower.
The Sisters program with the survivors has been very successful and we are currently working with 100 families. Our carers continue to identify families within their communities who are then referred to join the groups. They meet every month where they take part in group therapy and afterwards they are given a food parcel to take home with them. Trocaire have continued to fund this program which we started with your very generous donations. This funding comes to an end this month and these families have really appreciated all the support that they have been receiving over the months. For many of them, this is the only support that they have been receiving since the virus affected their communities. They are now very worried as to what to do when this help ends because they have no other source of help. Trocaire has also donated a mattress to each of the families as well as solar radio, charger and torches. Many of these families had infected people taken from the house and others had died in these houses. When they returned home they found out all their belongings had been burned and some were compensated with little or nothing. These new mattresses and beddings will help them as they try to rebuild their lives again. We have recently had a discussion with Trocaire about how they may be able in some way to help these families become self-sustainable. Here is a lorry load of 100 mattresses arriving last week for the affected families.
It seems like a dream now, as at the last meeting they were in near despair as to how they could feed their families next month. One lady who is Guinean and her husband that died was Sierra Leonean was particularly distressed. She is looking after her own two children but has also adopted a 15yr old boy from her neighborhood. His parents died and have no family to look after him. She too doesn’t seem to have any in-laws that will help her and she doesn’t have family to go back to in Guinea. She doesn’t know what to do because the business she had of selling items from Guinea can’t go on as she has no money at all. Once our food supplies end, she has no other source income to feed her children. She has now been introduced to Loreto Clinic where one of her children can get onto the under-fives feeding program but she will need to find a way to feed herself and the other children. She is the one in the orange top. The second lady too is from Guinea and she too lost her husband but unfortunately her in-laws are not supportive of her. When she suggests that she could go back to Guinea, they tell her that she can’t take her children. So she is torn between leaving her children and getting support from her family. She is staying for now as she doesn’t want to leave her children. She too was selling items from Guinea and is struggling to get herself started again as she has no capital at all. These are just some of the desperate situations that some of the survivors are facing after Ebola.
One of the first survivors we started working with and was highly pregnant at the time (Aminata) had a lovely baby boy Samuel on the 31st December. Some of you may remember the photographs of her children receiving the Christmas gifts in the near collapsing house. We got quite a fright recently when she had to be admitted to hospital and they thought an operation would be necessary. Thankfully after a few days in hospital and a course of antibiotics she is now on the road to recovery. Aminata and her husband’s second wife Marie get on really well. When she was in hospital, Marie breast fed Aminata’s baby for her. This practice is very common in Sierra Leone especially where babies are orphaned and are looked after by the grandmother or another nursing mother. Her house is also now being restored and a new roof being put on it, thanks to the generous donations from Ireland.
You have no idea of the impact of your generosity in uplifting the spirits of these good people. We as the Sisters receive all the thanks but as they say here, we are only “the Sababo” which means the intermediary. Because of you we can meet so many critical needs with the money that you send us. We are so grateful for your kindness. Here is Aminata, her new baby and the new house under construction where the two widows and their 13 children will be living.
Here at the school, we’re happy to inform all our donors that our boys and girls who entered for NPSE – National Primary School Exam, were among the highest achieving pupils in the main stream St. Joseph’s school. We are also very proud of our eight secondary students as well as Finda one of our teachers who spent six weeks in Freetown where they did two modules in IT and they all did very well. This was funded by Irish Aid and we had the honor of the Irish Ambassador Dr. Sinead Walsh presenting them with their certificates. The founder and director of the Dorothy Springer Foundation is Dr. Abs Dumbuya whose aim is to enable people living with disability to achieve employment by their skills in IT. We’re very grateful for the continued support from Irish Aid. They’re now back and are ready to do their Junior Secondary exams. Abdul Rahman is attempting the Senior Secondary exams. Here are some pictures of our proud graduates.
Monica who is the school’s audiologist and lecturer arrived from England on the 4th March. She has been coming to the school for the last 10yrs and has supported the development of Special Education at UNIMAK and at the school. During that time the Audiology Department has trained teachers and provided hearing aids adapted to the needs of the children. Catherine Healey is our other lecturer from Birmingham University. She hopes to join us at the end of this month. Together they make a professional team and hopefully our teachers will be graduating next February with Diplomas and B.Ed. One of the families benefiting from Monica’s expertise is a boy and a girl that are Ebola survivors. They lost their hearing after having endured and survived the Ebola Virus Disease. Monica has been assessing them to see how best we can support them here at the school and more than likely they will be boarding with this. This is because their main carer is their elder sister Nene who is now pregnant and also looking after six other siblings.
Friends of St Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired, Makeni, Sierra Leone
11th December 14
Dear All,As we start the time of waiting for the feast, when we remember the birth of Jesus and His New Way of Living in relationship with humankind, we lift up our hearts in thanksgiving for all the good people who have done so much in helping the people of Sierra Leone; the Sierra Leonean people whose homes have been devastated by the sickness and death of their loved ones. Your empathy made room for the people of Makeni in your hearts and allowed us to enter into their lives, to give them hope and care in their time of need. Many, like Mary and Joseph, were told there is no place for them in the various categories of need coming from different offices and the people are sent on to continue their search for relief. Your generosity has enabled us to fill in the gaps and gather them together to share and allow us to ease some of their needs and offer them the joy and love that Bethlehem brings. Your creativity in giving is boundless as it enables us to find countless ways of helping those affected by Ebola.Recently a lady, who lost her 17 year old daughter, her husband and his second wife, came in to visit the Sisters and to say thank you for the counseling, food and care she had received through the program that you have enabled us to start. This lady had recovered from the virus but later had a nervous breakdown, due to the trauma, and was not sleeping at all. It was wonderful to see the transformation in her, even though she still needs to continue attending Loreto Clinic for her support and medication. From being a very broken woman on the day she first arrived, she now has the confidence and she hopes to start taking control of her life and find a way forward. Many of the people coming to the group sessions speak of the relief in knowing that there is a haven of hope for them in St. Joseph’s. We offer them food and psychological support. They know they will be warmly welcomed and listened to and be assured of finding their way of facing their future through our support and encouragement.Christmas in Sierra Leone is traditionally a time of joy and celebration, like it is in most parts of the world. But the expression of joy is different, for example the children do not know Santa Claus, and a new dress, new shoes and beautiful hair accessories for the girls and football jerseys for the boys is the equivalent to Santa and they all like to walk the street showing off their style. With excitement it is something they all look forward to. Each family cooks various varieties of food and sends dishes to neighbors, friends and family. This sadly is not going to be possible for many this year because of the fear of infection. Many can no longer afford to do this as they have been made redundant or lost members of their families, many of whom were the bread winners. The Sisters traditional gathering of all the people living with disability in Makeni, and the children coming after Church will have to be cancelled this year due to the ban on gatherings during the Ebola crisis. Instead we are visiting our Leprosy patients, visually impaired people and those in the amputee camps with gifts of food and other goodies. Christmas without children cannot be the same but knowing the resilience of Sierra Leoneans and their gratitude for life will not stop them rejoicing as the New Year Church Bells ring out at midnight on 31st December and they all dance and sing “Papa God we tell you Tenkie, me no die oh”. A New Year will come and we pray Ebola will be banished with the vaccine that we hope will be here by then. We are so happy to be able to distribute the beautifully prepared Christmas shoe boxes that we have been receiving to the families affected by Ebola. Unfortunately we cannot gather them together to celebrate in one place but the gifts are bringing a lot of joy to the children and this is despite the grief and trauma that they have to deal with.As we await the last consignment of pallets we would like to express what words cannot convey; how the overwhelming support from our friends and all who have contributed and responded so generously since July has brought us from our initial powerlessness to a place where we can relate to the reality of the tragedy that has been unfolding in front of us. Our Ladies that have been supporting the survivors, the Cluny Sisters and our VMM volunteer, Mercy, would all like to wish you and all your families every Blessing and Joy during the Christmas Season. Mercy leaves for Kenya having done tremendous work in keeping everyone informed and Sister Mary, with hopeful courage, will take up the pen and hopefully the computer, to keep in touch with you on the progress here in Makeni.This has been a wonderful time of combined effort and we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for what you have done to make all this possible. We have had the privilege of working with you who are such creative, organized, skilled and generous good human people. We have learned a lot and you have made a strong circle of goodness around Loreto Clinic, Holy Spirit Hospital, the people of Makeni and St. Joseph’s School.Happy Christmas and God Bless you all,From Sister Philomena, Sister Amala, Sister Romaine, Sister Antoinette, Sister Mary and MercyIf you would like to help the Sisters continue their work please go to www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/ebola4Kind regardsLinda FreestoneOn behalf of the trustees
13th August 2014
Re: Update on St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired during the Ebola virus crisis.
May I start by apologizing for not being accessible via email for a while. This is due to many factors including the breaking down of our internet system which was brought down during a storm. I am now back online with the help of a kind donation of a wifi dongle. I am also getting offers of help from other volunteers and I am currently getting some assistance from one of the VMM volunteers.
This is just a quick update to let you know that all is well at St. Joseph’s and that we are taking every precaution necessary to ensure that our students and staff are protected during this period. The children have now all gone home and so we have to let all our staff go to because there is no work. They will receive their gratuity pay and we will call them back when we are sure that the students will return. The same is happening even with many of the mining companies, addax, etc who are all working on a skeletal staff and many of the local staff have been let go temporarily.
The state of emergency declared by the government will last for ninety days which ends towards the end of October. This is causing a lot of disruption and movement is restricted in the affected areas. The police and the army are being used to ensure that the restriction zones are maintained. For security reasons motor bikes are only working from 7am to 7pm as they were being used to transport some of the Ebola infected patients escape at night. Education wise, the West African Senior Secondary Exams as well as the Junior Secondary Exams have been affected and have now been postponed indefinitely. University expats and other technicians are unable to come from abroad and many projects are affected and have now been postponed. Unfortunately the hospitals are not able to cope as they don’t have the basic protective supplies of gloves and aprons as well as the chlorine needed for hand washing. The result is that many nurses and doctors are infected by the virus and many are dying. Fr. Joe Turay (Vice Chancellor Unimak) and other task force members are appealing personally to individual members of parliament and influential members of the civil society to pressurize the government and the international donors to take immediate action that will help control the spread of the virus.
People have been asking me whether am afraid. I cannot say I am, it’s different from the time of the war. At that time I somehow felt in control, because we could run from the rebels, we could help those that were wounded or in crisis. But with Ebola there’s little you can do other than explain what it is and how to avoid it. Being powerless is causing everyone to live in intense fear. What’s giving confidence to many is the precautions that we are taking. We only go out when we have to, we make sure we keep up with hygiene procedures i.e. hand washing, and no body contact. This was very difficult for Sierra Leoneans who shake hands all the time but it seems to have been widely accepted now. We’re all back to listening to the radio and sharing and keeping up with every little update on the Ebola crisis. There are heroes and heroines coming out of all this and the one that has captured everyone’s heart is Dr. Khan, a young virologist who worked for many years with the Lassa fever virus and sadly the Ebola virus carried him to his death. He was 39yrs of age. We’re also very aware of the risk our nurses and doctors at Holy Spirit Hospital and Loreto Clinic and Sr. Philomena (the only sister at the frontline).
The spread of the virus has been helped because the locals believed in their own local medicine, which is a mixture of herbs, rituals and sometimes bloodletting. This could not cure them of the Ebola virus and in Makeni a family of nine died when they took part in a funeral/burial of a family member as they took part in the cultural rituals which they believe are more important than life.
I hope to report to individuals in detail regarding their support of the various activities at St. Joseph’s in past school year. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers for all the people of Sierra Leone who are currently very devastated with what is happening in the country that was developing so rapidly in the past three years. I would like to thank you very much for your concern and for keeping in touch.
Sister Mary Sweeney
St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired