I have set up this blog to let friends and family back home know of my experience volunteering in Sierra Leone as part of the Ebola relief. I don't know how easy I will find it to regularly update it but it's always best to start with good intentions.
Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Christmas is cancelled… or is it?
Last week the Sierra Leone government announced plans for “The
Surge”, an ominously named attempt to curb the spread of ebola before
Christmas. It’s a promise to scale-up community teams searching for unwell
patients, holding centre beds, laboratory services, ambulances, treatment centre
beds and burial teams. So basically what everyone has been trying to do for the
last however many months. It came into action on Wednesday 17th Dec,
overnight. Yesterday, a local radio station interviewed me to give my
assessment of whether it had made any difference. Firstly, it has to be said, that I am working in only one ebola holding units of many, a
very small piece in a big jigsaw - I think there are 11 in the Western Area
(Freetown and surroundings), so whatever I see first hand cannot be
extrapolated to the whole area but to me it hasn’t made an obvious difference.
The chocolate eclairs disappeared in a day at the office!
Local staff members tell me that Christmas is simply the best time
of year in Sierra Leone. It’s not too hot and it’s usually one long party
month, music blaring with parties in clubs and on the beach in the lead up to
Christmas. You wouldn’t have guessed it from the Freetown I’ve come to know.
I’ve seen the occasional inflatable santa and Christmas decorations, but since
The Surge started on Wednesday I’ve noticed an even greater change in the atmosphere. The streets are empty and the place is relatively quiet. The government has ordered, in addition to the scale-up of resources, all
shops, restaurants, football cinemas and bars to close at 6pm on weekdays and
12pm on weekends. And yet, people don’t generally catch ebola from restaurants
or shops they catch it looking after their sick relatives at home. So in my
opinion this aspect of The Surge is only damaging the weakened economy even
further and it seems like an exercise to show that the police and army can
still exert their power.
Christmas Cake was a big hit too!
On a personal level, it’s certainly making life
difficult for us volunteers because after a long day in the unit we value our
downtime, usually eating in restaurants or having a couple of beers together in the evenings.
We’ve had some recent serious discussions about stocking up on food supplies
for our houses so we don’t go hungry! As for Christmas - for us volunteers is very
much NOT cancelled. The admin staff here have done a fantastic job of making
sure that we all get a couple of days break over the Christmas period whilst
ensuring enough staff remain on duty in the unit. So at various different times
this week we’re all heading off to the beach for a couple of nights of well
deserved ‘downtime’, fun and festivities on an idyllic white sandy beach,
swimming in the sea, with newly formed friends. Not a bad way to spend my first
Christmas ever away from home…