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Sierra Leone

Rebuilding lives after Ebola

By Sean Farrell

I recently spent a month in Sierra Leone supporting Trócaire’s emergency response to the Ebola crisis. It is hard to describe the level of fear and panic felt during those dark months last year as village by village, family by family, Ebola wreaked havoc on Sierra Leone.

Since returning, there is one man’s story I can’t get out of my mind.

I met Patrick Sesay outside his home in a small village named Gbonkomaria. He sat quietly as tears flowed from his eyes, gently falling on a photograph that he was clutching. The photograph, taken a numbers of years ago, shows three young smiling women. Two of the women are Patrick’s daughters, Ammah and Haja, and the third woman is their friend. At the age of 60 Patrick was looking forward to retiring from teaching and watching his children raise the next generation, but his life began to fall apart last October.

On October 18th his daughter Ammah fell sick, complaining of dizziness and fever. Her health worsened quickly and within days she passed away in their home. Over the coming weeks, the Ebola virus spread rapidly through the house. In total 12 members of the extended family caught the virus. In a matter of weeks, seven would die. Patrick lived in the house for the whole time that Ebola ran riot through its walls. He watched in terror and agony as first his daughter died, then his wife, then his son, then another daughter.

He sits outside the house now and can hardly speak of those days and weeks. His plans for a gentle retirement are now gone. Ebola has wrecked everything this family have built over years of hard work.

Patrick Sesay and his family in Sierra Leone

Captions: (l) Patrick Sesay and his grandchildren outside his home in Sierra Leone. (r) Two of Patrick Sesay’s daughters in happier times.

Trócaire responded to the crisis by providing counselling to families such as Patrick’s who had been affected by Ebola. We also provided food, new mattresses, pillows, blankets and other items to families living under quarantine, as well as raising awareness in communities on how to stop the spread of the killer virus.

This response saved lives and brought hope and comfort to people as they battled this horrific outbreak. Thankfully, infection rates have fallen dramatically and there is confidence that the worst of the crisis is over. However, our efforts to help those affected are only just beginning. We need your continued support to help families like Patrick’s.

The long term impacts of this crisis will be huge. Tens of thousands of people were quarantined during the planting season, which means they won’t have any crops to harvest over the coming months. Likewise, many people lost their jobs when businesses were forced to close, leaving them with no income.

We are working with families to make sure they have enough food by providing farmers with seeds and tools as they attempt to rebuild their lives. We are also working with affected communities to provide counselling to people whose lives were completely destroyed by Ebola.

As I said goodbye to Patrick I was struck by how tired and drained he looked. His dreams are gone and much of what he loved and lived for has been taken. He knows he needs to be strong for his grandchildren who he must now raise. He needs to keep going but it will not be easy. As he cradles the photograph, so laden with memories, the tears keep coming.

Like tens of thousands of relatives left behind, Patrick will never fully recover from the horror of the last few months. Rebuilding his life will be a long journey. With your support, we can be there every step of the way.

Please consider making a donation to support our ongoing work to help the people of Sierra Leone recover from Ebola.

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