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Supporting women’s livelihoods in Ebola affected communities

Australia Aid logoStories from Trócaire project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program (DAP). Compiled by Maria Flavin, Trócaire Sierra Leone.

Ya-Koloneh Kamara and grandchildren

Ya-Koloneh Kamara and her two grandchildren in Yelisanda Village. Photo: Michael Solis

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak that began in May 2014 had a severe and lasting impact on the West African countries it struck, including Sierra Leone. 

Not only did EVD claim nearly 4,000 lives, but it also had a devastating impact on the country’s economy, agriculture production and many other areas. 

Since March 2016, when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free, the people of Sierra Leone have been recovering from the loss of loved ones and the changes in their households and communities.

In the community Yelisanda in Bombali district, 42 people were infected with Ebola, and 39 of those passed away. Due to the high number of cases, this community was put under quarantine for 21 days in July of 2015. This meant that people were confined to their homes to stop the spread of the virus. 

“You could not even jump over this road,” Ya-Koloneh Kamara recounts, pointing from her home to a well only a few metres away. They were unable to access the water whilst quarantined and depended on the handouts of bottled water from NGOs. 

These restrictions impacted Ya-Koloneh’s livelihood as she could not go to her land to farm. 

As was the case with many farmers, Ya-Koloneh lost her agricultural produce during this period as she could not attend to her crops. Recognising this problem within communities, Trócaire’s partner Menna Women’s Development Associates (MEWODA) provided support, including seeds and tools, for farmers to carry out backyard gardening in the confines of quarantine. 

Once the quarantine was lifted, and even later when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free, the community of Yelisanda still had obstacles to overcome. 

Many people lost the crops that they depended on for their families’ livelihoods. They also had to carry on with life in the wake of the deaths of their family members and friends. 

Tensions were still high as blaming continued to occur, with people wanting to shift responsibility to those who they felt ‘brought’ Ebola to village. Each of these factors contributed to the community’s vulnerability.

As a result of the Ebola virus, Ya-Koloneh now provides for twelve people in her family. Her sister’s husband passed away during this period, which meant that her sister was left alone with five children to care for. Realising the intense pressures her sister was facing, Ya-Koloneh stepped in to care for the children.

“It’s difficult but I know I have to do this,” Ya-Koloneh said. “There are no other relatives”. 

This, in turn, intensified Ya-Koloneh’s already difficult situation of trying to provide for her existing family members. As a result of the economic strains on her family, her son, Daniel Kamara (then 17 years old) was forced to withdraw from his education.

MEWODA, with the support of a Trócaire project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program (DAP), provided vulnerable women such as Ya-Koloneh with agricultural inputs and training. 

The support included seed inputs such as rice, groundnut and ginger, as well as farm tools including hoes, cutlasses, and harvesting knives. 

Moreover, training workshops were provided on basic agronomic skills and farm preparation which helped improve women’s knowledge to benefit their agricultural productivity. 

Through this support, 20 communities are set to increase their crop yields.

Trócaire believes in promoting agricultural practices that are sustainable, environmentally considerate and conducive to the resilience of vulnerable people living with poverty. 

One method of increasing resilience is through diversifying crops. Ya-Koloneh, for example, now grows a variety of produce including corn, cassava, okra, eggplant, groundnut and other vegetables, going above and beyond the expected results of the project. 

This increase of production meant Ya-Koloneh had the economic means to provide for all members of her family. It also meant she could send her son, Daniel, back to school to finish his education. The future is now much brighter for her and her family.

In a separate community, in the village of Macondeh, Gudie Kamara (47) is also one of the women farmers who benefited from the DAP project. 

Gudie Kamara and her two children

Gudie Kamara and her two children near the community farm in Macondeh Village. Photo: Maria Flavin

Gudie was responsible for supporting 11 people in her household (including 7 children). 

She and her family were living in a four-room thatch house where they suffered from illnesses like malaria, fever and dysentery because of the conditions of their home. 

For a long time, Gudie made it her priority to improve the living situation and health of both herself and her family. 

Lighting up with excitement at the chance to share her story, Gudie explained that the support of MEWODA has resulted in a complete change in the way she and her family are living. 

The increases in her crop production have resulted in her being able to sell surplus goods and renovate her home, constructing a new roof and greatly improving the living conditions of her family. 

Offering a wide smile, she said that through the support of MEWODA and the donors (Trócaire and Australian High Commission), she and her family have reached their goal. 

“I have never slept in such a comfortable and secure house!”

Gudie concluded by sharing her blessings with Trócaire, Australian Aid, and MEWODA for the meaningful help they have given to her and the community as a whole. 

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