April 20, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
As the saying goes, ‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’. The government has to achieve this for all Ebola survivors who are in need, who suffer from poverty occasioned by the Ebola outbreak and are grappling to eke out a living.
To date, Sierra Leone has 3,469 survivors – the highest in the Mano River Union, worse hit by Ebola since March 2014. Considerably, this number is likely to increase as we continue on the bumpy road to zero new infectious case.
Now, the survivors need a way to develop their lives on their own. Survivors, who might have come to a conclusion that following the outbreak of Ebola, their future is utterly bleak, should be empowered.
The program should focus entirely on survivors, who live below the poverty line — less than $1 a day. They have no means of earning extra income even as their families are the worst hit by Ebola.
This program should receive an urgent and undivided attention from the government. Also, it should be audited through qualitative research by experts who have been on the ground to help defeat Ebola so that survivors can uplift the lives of their dependants. The program should also link to the larger society in order to secure survivors’ income for the long-run.
The program should align with the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ and poverty alleviation in post-Ebola Sierra Leone. It should also be in line with cultivation for national upliftment, which will promote cultivation of vegetables, fruits, yams and herbal plants to meet the daily needs of households across the country. In addition, the program should also support sustainable agriculture with the aim of achieving sustainable earnings, food security and higher income for Ebola survivors.
Locally produced seeds suitable for cultivation in individual survivors/regions should be provided to those of them who are farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security can train them on how to grow these plants profitably.
This program should build on the philosophy of ‘helping those who are willing to help themselves’. There should be no cash handouts, but the increment in the input. It should also concentrate on the commitment of survivors, to rise above poverty. However, the government should encourage survivors to register voluntarily for the empowerment program.
Survivors should also be introduced to home gardening and animal husbandry as a means to improve their livelihoods, gain economic independence and ultimately achieve self-sustainability. The produce from their home gardens will improve an overall daily nutritional intake with significant increases in protein, calcium and iron, and improve the national food production.
Additionally, survivors should be introduced to poultry farming – eggs are a much-needed source of protein in daily meals that improve nutritional intake, helping to replace already worn out tissues and building the body against diseases.
Given a well-coordinated program, survivors can approach financial institution to obtain loans and manage their day-to-day expenses, and earn extra income.
The vision for this program should be to reach out to all survivors, guide them to achieve self-sustenance, by creating a paradigm shift in thinking about the negative impact Ebola has had on them.
Government and other development partners extract from survivors ideas and commitments to bringing the ideas to fruition before any support is provided. Survivors who have made up their minds to remain in the woods under the guise of ‘Ebola survivor’ and live on charity should no longer be encouraged.
The program should also improve survivor’s quality and quantity of health, level of nutrition, and also facilitates the eradication of malnutrition among Ebola orphans. In like manner, particular attention should be given to Ebola survivors who are women due to their significant role in the household.
While survivors are likely to reach self-sustenance successfully, officers from the various ministries and development partners should continue to visit them to ensure continuity of their empowerment practices.
While government has consented to pay the tuition fees for public schools pupils, from primary to senior secondary school levels, and also pay for all public examinations, including the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West Africa Senior Secondary School Examination (WASSCE) for the next two years, government should also provide a full scholarship for all Ebola orphans up to tertiary level. Selection of orphans should be after due consultation and documentation with relevant government agencies. In no small way, this will create a positive mind shift in the orphans, making them believe in their abilities despite losing their parents to Ebola.