June 8, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
The people of Kailahun District, including Paramount Chiefs and other key stakeholders, converged at the Luawa Resort in Kailahun town over the weekend to proffer solutions to the emerging problems and challenges posed to the district by the dreaded Ebola scourge. “The deadly Ebola virus has left my community and people in stigma and shame. We have experienced depression, especially in the Kissy Tongi Chiefdom where the Ebola outbreak actually started. My people are grieving; there is loss of self esteem, self confidence, and self worth. Our properties were destroyed. Ebola has touched our dignity again as a people. This is why we have convened this conference to discuss the way forward, and to have a plan to respond to Ebola recovery challenges,” said Paramount Chief Ganawa of Kissy Tongi Chiefdom.
The conference was facilitated by Fambul Tok International, a community reconciliation program that has worked for peace and unity in Sierra Leone since the war ended, and Catalyst for Peace, a United States based Foundation that promotes peace and reconciliation.
In her contribution, Libby Holfman spoke about good partnership in development work, and that no community or nation can succeed with cracks in the seeming whole. “All of you are survivors, as you were faced with fear and tragedy. We now need space most impacted by the Ebola scourge. We want to help re-grow the fabric of peace. I am of the strong belief that this conference will leave us best prepared to handle future outbreaks. Community members are agents of change as they have the ability to assess their needs,” she said.
In his presentation, Fambul Tok Executive Director, John Caulker, emphasized on working with communities to answer emerging questions from the Ebola scourge. “We have been working closely with the community of Kailahun for 9 years; together we have worked alongside the people of Kissy Tongi in planning what they think should happen to them for recovery, and the healing processes,” noted Mr. Caulker. “The people have suffered, and that is more the reason why they should be given the opportunity to have the People’s Plan to resuscitate and heal the communities again after they have experienced very serious separations from loved ones. There is a sharp division in our communities as a result of the Ebola. What we are discussing here today is the People’s Plan on recovery and healing. This is so because a lot of misappropriations are taking place with regards community needs. The community people can now tell you what they want for their communities, and not the other way where the authorities imposed plans on the people without their input.”
Doris Mansaray of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs dilated on the impact of Ebola on women and children. “When a woman is hurt, the whole family is hurt,” she said and expressed deep sympathy for the widows and orphans of Kailahun District as a result of the Ebola.
The WHO representative described the conference as timely, as it will help design the scope and the course the recovery and healing processes in the country should take. “We will work closely with the plan that will emerge from this conference as the People’s Plan,” he said.
Talking on the relevance of unity in the district, the DERC Chairman for Kailahun District, Ganawa Juana, appealed for peace and unity in the area. “We should hold ourselves together, and we really need this now in Kailahun,” he said. “The idea of having a People’s Plan is laudable, and for anytime we get organizations working on development in Kailahun, they first have to look at this Plan for development. And I’m happy all these challenges are being assessed by the victims themselves. Women and children suffered the Ebola onslaught, leaving the district with hundreds of widows and orphans.”
Paramount Chief of Neni Chiefdom in the Koinadugu District also attended the Kailahun conference. He said: “We are here to learn from Kailahun and to share the experience with the rest of Sierra Leone. It is good that we are planning for ourselves, as we know exactly where the holes are in our communities.”
Out of the plan, recovery methods have emphasized on monitoring the border crossing points in Kailahun District, observing community by-laws, practicing safe and dignified burial, abstinence from sex by survivors, seeking advice from medical doctors, frequent hand washing until Ebola is defeated, engaging the youths in surveillance activities, and strengthening sensitization through community stakeholders. In the scope of healing, reconciliation at community level emerged prominently, including training of community mediators to handle conflicts emerging from the Ebola.
The people of Kailahun want to observe memorial ceremonies for their departed family members killed by the Ebola. It was agreed that there should be acceptance, and that people should ask for forgiveness again, and to engage the communities in psychosocial counseling, and to say no to stigmatization. The women in Kailahun have asked for a cancellation of debts they owe to banks that are now harassing them for repayment, even when they had not undertaken any business activities since the Ebola broke out.
At the meeting also were representatives from DERC Moyamba and Koinadugu districts, Kailahun District councilors, Plan International, World Vision, Welt Hunger, Save the Children, and other stakeholders in the fight against Ebola.