A day on the Ebola frontline. Well, more behind the lines. Freetown. Western Area. Ebola pockets everywhere. The real frontline is the East of the country. What a day. Remarkable. Glad to have witnessed with my own eyes.
Today we truly launched the 'Food Basket Appeal'. Today was achieved with no overhead. Today wasn't exactly straightforward. Today interference and bureaucracy was overcome. Today we fought a few battles. Today everything was delivered by ourselves straight to source.
We planned. We shopped. We packed. We sweated. We delivered. Every dollar you pledged counted. Really counted.
A real team effort. Driven by 2 awesome ladies, both divas by the way, they should take most credit. One is well known to regular readers - Baby Diva. The second was introduced 2 posts back. KAB. She describes herself as 'Diva With a Heart'. Both have been absolutely wonderful. Couldn't have managed this without them.
Some photos capture the pathos and confusion first hand. Focus on the eyes, it's all there. Misery. Bewilderment. Fear. They need help...
OK, let's get to it. Today was pretty serious. In fact, very serious. The overall spirit in the face of this adversity is unbelievable and uplifting. Look at the children's faces, a difficult pull for the parents amongst us.
This first family was in Josiah Drive. A mother died (the house in the photo) 2 weeks ago. The house was placed in quarantine, as well as the house adjoining. In these two modest homes 16 souls live. They've been in quarantine more than a week. There's a policeman nearby who's unsure of his duties. Men are noticeably absent from both houses. They are probably hustling for money to feed everyone. Means the virus is potentially being spread further. What does quarantine really mean? No food has been delivered to this house since they were placed in quarantine. An organisational disgrace. Tens of millions of dollars are pouring in, there's several hundred NGO's here. Many of them housed in the best hotels and resorts available, who wouldn't know a quarantined house if one bit them on the arse. They need to get out more, in their comfortable 4 x 4's, and see what's really going on.
We delivered 2 baskets here. Huge bags of rice which is the main staple, a large charcoal bundle, fresh bread, dried fish, garri, tins of sardines, milk mix for children, salt, sugar, pepper, washing powder, toiletries, soap, water, cooking oil, onions, noodles, cheese, tea, sugar, luncheon meat, and other items. There was little joy, no speeches. There was plain weariness. The first real food they'd seen in more than a week, probably longer. One junior NGO in the Radisson, probably doing sweet fanny adams, her room rate per night would feed several families like this every day. Ahh, but I'm not seeing the bigger picture.... yeah, right...
There were government people out with us today, doing their best, of this I have no doubt. However, their collective best just isn't good enough. This crisis didn't start yesterday, it began here in early July. Incompetence everywhere I looked. How difficult is it? Really, how difficult? Yes, put people in quarantine. But bloody well feed them. Quarantine must mean just that. The lack of resources argument, Government of Sierra Leone, is wearing thin. It's lack of organisation and leadership at every level. Pass responsibility down.
I'm going well in this post, must be the vino veritas. Blast the NGO's - check. Don't spare the Government - check...
Overreaction on my part? Maybe just one house? No, it wasn't. It was each and every one. The same story. Not quite true. Actually one was different. The house of a young doctor. He was a colleague of Dr. Khan, the first doctor to die in Sierra Leone and a national hero. This doctors 12 year old son became infected at another relatives house. He placed his child into a treatment centre, then quarantined himself and family. The other house was also quarantined. That was 2 weeks ago. Today was the first time he'd stepped out during this time.
He'd received no food from government or from the NGO circus. A bright articulate young man who made a major call. The right call. His child has survived and should be released next week. He and his family are fine. The words of thanks he gave from his heart were among the most moving I've heard. This was the happy ending to the day when I was beginning to despair.
Does anyone really care? Care enough? Surely if they did, then things wouldn't be this bad? I repeat, it boils down to leadership and organisational skills. Both seem sadly lacking. I return to the point of overreaction. I won't accept this one bit; this isn't my first rodeo, I've seen plenty. I know bullshit and tomfoolery when I see it.
There was plenty more from today. 12 baskets were delivered to 12 families. We went into 4 areas - Regent, Two Slabs (honestly), Bell Air Park (not to be confused with...) and 76 Dwzark and Dwzark itself. Areas, with the exception of Regent, I'd never seen before during my 3 years here. The total fed, for over a week, probably longer, is 56 people. Some of the food, in particular the rice, will help feed others I suspect - that's a good thing.
Right. Now I need money. Thanks to you all who've pledged (all mentioned in the last post), I appreciate your patience as I've worked through how to get my hands on your cash. I've messed around with PayPal long enough (can send but not receive funds in Sierra Leone), a 'Just Giving Page' doesn't work, we are not a registered charity and have no intentions of becoming one. We're not an NGO - heaven forbid. We are a small private appeal hoping to do some good, where 100% of the money you give will go directly to the point of need. You have my word. We can't help many, but we can help a few. It's worth it.
I've decided strip things back and keep it simple. We'll use MoneyGram. It's fast, effective and safe. I've used myself before to pay my divas salaries when I've been back in London.
Below is what you need to do. You can do online or through outlets all over the world. This lifted from their website.
How to Send Money
Sending money with MoneyGram is easy, affordable, and fast. See below for step-by-step instructions to help guide you through the process.
Send Money Online
Sending money online is fast and easy, even if it's your first time
1. Enter the amount you want to send and where you want to send it. You will also be asked to provide the recipient's name.
2. When processing is complete, we will send you a Reference Number to share with your recipient.
3. Your recipient can pick up the money at a MoneyGram Location
Send Money from a MoneyGram Location
1. Find a MoneyGram Location
2. Visit your MoneyGram location. Remember to bring some person identification* with you.
3. Present your MoneyGram Rewards card to the agent or complete a simple Send Form and hand the form to the MoneyGram agent along with the money you want to send and the transfer fee. You may also include a free 10-word message on the form.
4. You will be given a Reference Number.
5. Contact the person to whom you're sending the money, and give the receiver the Reference Number.
6. In just 10 minutes the money will be ready to collect.
You may be required to provide personal identification, usually one or more of the following: passport, driving license, national identity card or a government issued identification. You may also be required to provide proof of address (bank statement or utility bill).
Requirements vary by country so please ask your local MoneyGram branch for acceptable identification formats.
There you have it - EPLS. Please start sending those who have pledged. Of course anyone else, please jump aboard. We've raised nearly $5k so far, my secret target. I want to do more now. We spent just under $1k yesterday. We filled a flat bed lorry. Use my name as the recipient. Mark Reading. My email for notifications is email@example.com
Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns
If anyone in Freetown wants to help in cash, or in kind (give us foodstuffs, rice, loan a vehicle / truck) then please email, or text me (+232 76117358).
Some personal thanks to finish. Angelina J, step aside...
- to everyone who has pledged money or support
- to my partner on this project, KAB - a woman possessed, such energy
- to Baby Diva - brilliant work yesterday. You overcame fear. Yesterday wasn't for everyone I realise. I know you started to believe that my Kraft cheese slices and After Eight Mints idea, with a long pole, wasn't so far fetched after all...
- these 2 ladies did everything, the hard yards. Shopping all over the city, in the markets, to get the best prices. Even went into east Freetown where the likes of their heels and handbags are rarely seen. Then the sorting and packing...
- to Senior Diva who held down the fort for our business yesterday while we were 'gallivanting' around Freetown. A day where plenty of stuff was going wrong. She was super stressed when we returned, and didn't really want to hear just how useless NGOs are... also a little shocked to see me have 2 cold beers at 1600 hrs in the office. She's never witnessed that before in 3 years. That sort of day. Don't worry, when we're successful I'll introduce an Alcohol & Drugs Policy, ha...never...
- to Flash Motors who kindly loaned us a 4 x 4 and driver for shopping on Thursday and delivery Friday
- to the Government department who loaned us a flat bed lorry - many thanks
- to Sylvia and her harassed local government team who led us into the areas, showed us the houses - no criticism of you intended. It's above you - you're foot soldiers doing the best you can
- to Ed - thanks for coming out at short notice and looking over things for me
To anyone else I've missed off, I'll get you next time.
P.S. EPLS? As I say to my little acorns. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy...
P.P.S. Off to Monrovia tonight, another post from there...