April 1, 2015 By Amjata Bayoh
Alhassan Kemokai has become a well-known face around Sierra Leone after lending his image to a SMAC Ebola Champions and Survivors campaign that was launched last November. His smiling expression has been plastered on posters across Freetown and in all districts and has become a symbol of courage in the fight against Ebola.
The SMAC led campaign highlights a number of brave individuals who have survived Ebola and those working on the frontline as health workers, ambulance drivers and in burial teams. It aims to combat the stigma suffered by these people and celebrate their incredible bravery in the face of so many challenges.
“I feel proud to see my face on the posters, I have many people approaching me now on the street saying ‘Hey guy’ that’s you on the posters right,” says Alhassan who became infected after caring for his ailing mother.
It has been seven months since Alhassan walked out of the Kenema Treatment Unit free of the disease. Since then he has been advocating for support for Ebola survivors through the Ebola Survivors Organisation – a group he founded in Kenema. The group includes over 200 survivors and provides psychosocial support to its members. “When we meet we share each other’s grief, we all understand the pain that each of us has suffered and it is very comforting,” he says.
While Alhassan feels that the Ebola support networks being established are very affective in providing the counseling and emotional support needed for people who have suffered the disease, he says there are still so many gaps.
“We are slowly combatting stigma and through the networks that we have formed we help each other emotionally but now we want to restart our lives properly,” he says. “Survivors need tangible help from NGOs and Government to move on with their lives. I know some survivors who are homeless now, some have lost family members who were previously supporting them and they can’t go to school, some have lost their jobs, they are dropping out of society and it’s so sad.”
Alhassan says the key to helping survivors is through long-term sustainable support that includes education, training and jobs. “It would be nice if NGOs could engage us on a sustainable project, something that gives people education and jobs; that will actually help survivors for life and allow them to help others. If I’m given education, it is with me forever and I can help my family,” he says.
Some survivors have been fortunate enough to find employment within the Ebola response. Alhassan’s sister, Juliana, works for WFP in Kenema on food security and his brother Sulaiman works for GOAL. Both are also featured in the SMAC campaign.
Alhassan himself hopes to return to university but is not sure when that will be, “I lost my mother and she was helping me with school fees, so I’m not sure now what my future is with regards to education”.
There are currently over 3,200 survivors throughout Sierra Leone and a growing survivor network across the country. While their personal fight in beating the disease has been won, it seems they still have a long way to go.