SIERRA LEONE: Don Bosco Fambul draws on experience during Ebola to face coronavirus
(MissionNewswire) Located in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown, Don Bosco Fambul is one of the country’s leading child-welfare organizations and has been on the forefront of efforts to help rehabilitate street children and reunite them with their families. The organization is directed by Salesian Father Jorge Mario Crisafulli and has a staff of 120 including Salesian social workers who go out to the streets, slums, and marketplaces to engage with vulnerable youth and encourage them to join Don Bosco Fambul’s successful program.
The Salesian organization and its staff were on the frontlines of the Ebola epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014. The World Health Organization called it the “largest, most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic” in history. More than 28,000 people were infected, and over 11,000 people died before the international public health emergency ended in June 2016.
Salesian missionaries with Don Bosco Fambul sprung to action mobilizing their staff and providing information about the prevention of Ebola. Salesian missionaries worked with local communities to provide food aid and education about Ebola while disseminating protective clothing and cleaning and disinfecting agents such as chlorine.
In addition, the organization provided 20 mobile hand-washing basins to Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for use in Freetown. The mobile hand-washing basins were fitted with taps and hygiene-related products. Brother Lothar Wagner, director of Don Bosco Fambul at the time, noted that the mobile hand-washing basins were placed in strategic locations around Freetown to act as a reminder that good hygiene practices are some of the best methods to prevent the contraction of the Ebola virus.
Don Bosco Fambul, with assistance from the Catholic nongovernmental development organization Manos Unidas of Spain, also transformed a school into a home for 120 boys orphaned by Ebola. This unique care center for orphans on the Don Bosco Fambul campus met the children’s basic needs while providing schooling and education on health and hygiene. Precautions around health and hygiene, including a focus on preventative measures, were extremely stringent since the orphans had all been in contact with people infected by Ebola.
“We feel very close to Spain right now, because we know what it means to be in quarantine, to be afraid to go out on the street, to see people die during the epidemic. We lived with Ebola,” said Fr. Crisafulli.
To date, Sierra Leone only has officially reported a few cases, but Salesian missionaries are concerned because testing hasn’t been widespread. Fr. Crisafulli said, “There are only two places where tests are possible. When people die here it could also be the result of poverty or any number of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and AIDS. Without testing, we don’t know for sure.”
As a preventive measure, the country’s airport has been closed to international flights, and land borders have also been closed. Public religious celebrations and meetings with more than 100 people are prohibited, and schools will be closed this week. However, everyone knows that as soon as there is a positive case, quarantine and curfew will be mandatory.
Salesian missionaries ensure that they are prepared for the worst. Fr. Crisafulli added, “If or when an emergency is declared, given that the school will be closed, we will transform it into a care and reception center for 400 street children, obviously with all the necessary precautions toward everyone. We are already in the process of launching an awareness campaign and preparing for the emergency.”
Prevention protocols in the African country were put in place a long time ago. However, there are two needs that concern the Salesians at the moment—having enough food to feed the children during quarantine and having enough cleaning supplies and medicines to deal with the crisis. Salesian missionaries are working within their networks to help prepare as best as possible should the country be quarantined. Their focus is on minors who live, work and sleep on the streets of Freetown. The aim is to accommodate and feed them, as well as provide prevention information, health care, educational and recreational activities.
The UN World Food Program reports that over half of the population in Sierra Leone lives under the national poverty line of approximately $2 per day. According to the 2016 Global Hunger Index, Sierra Leone also faces an alarming level of hunger with nearly 38 percent of children younger than 5 years of age suffering from chronic malnutrition.
Young people face significant challenges in accessing education. With too few teachers and school buildings destroyed in the war, resources are thin and persistently high illiteracy rates mean that an estimated 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s youth are un- or under-employed.
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Salesian Missions – Sierra Leone
UNICEF – Sierra Leone
UN World Food Program – Sierra Leone