Sunday, 23 November 2014

Food Basket Delivery Marampa Chiefdom

Sierra Leone

1 country
13 Districts
149 Chiefdoms

Today, all about one Chiefdom. Marampa Chiefdom. A two hour, 120 kms drive northeast of Freetown. In the northern Province. We're in Lunsar. A dispiriting day. An uplifting day. Not quite in equal measure. We're in one of the worst Ebola affected areas in the country.

In numbers;

Villages visited: 8
Households assisted: 31
Food baskets distributed: 35
Deaths encountered: 55    
Under quarantine: 70
Survivors met: 8 

I mention numbers. They can't do it justice. They're just numbers. These are real people. Real stories. I served in the British Army 24 years. Never have I witnessed such devastation as seen in these small villages. Some of this post might be tough going for some. It's raw in parts. The photos speak for themselves. They capture the situation completely.

55 deaths in the houses and adjoining houses visited. Such human suffering. I've said it before. I'll say it again. Ebola is a disease that hits mostly the poor. The poor, and of course the medical staff in the front lines. Today brought this home like never before. I don't want to write too many words, rather let the images speak for themselves.

Where it really hit home was Labour Compound No. 10. Affected us all, me included. 

This lady was sat crying and confused. Her name is Safiatu Fofanah. She's broken. Safiatu has lost her husband and all 4 children. Her grief, her suffering was tangible. Difficult to photograph. She's the only survivor from her family of 6 souls. Safiatu needs counseling. Such 'luxuries' do not exist in the hinterland of Sierra Leone. This village is a few desolate houses sprinkled either side of a sandy coloured dirt road. Hardest hit area we visited all day. In total the 7 households had lost 12 people. There were another 7 in quarantine.

We delivered a basket to each household. Seven baskets. 

I must mention the nurse in the photo. Madam Isha Daramy Kabia. Nearly 40 years in the UK National Health Service as a midwife. Completed her lengthy service at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in 2004. Lives both in London and Freetown, but moves back and forth. Isha is making a huge difference on the ground. A true hero. 

Since the delivery last Friday, we've since met again where I was fortunate to dine with her for a couple of hours. She's up at 0600 hrs every day, takes a light breakfast, and often works from sunrise to beyond sunset. A light dinner in the evening is separated by 6 coconuts a day. She decants the coconut water and fills 2 water bottles. Isha has plenty of energy and keeps up with her younger assistants easily.

This family in Kontha Bana has also been devastated. The mother being monitored in the photo has lost her husband and eldest son. The child had held his father.

These are the surviving children. 2 days after these photos were taken mother and daughter were admitted to Port Loko Treatment Centre. They had elevated temperatures. This proves the value of monitoring. Isha and team do this every single day, and keep great records. They will be away for 21 days. Let's hope they return to the 2 boys, who will remain under quarantine. Below the basket, the charcoal bundle, the water, the bag of rice. Many of you reading this blog have contributed to these baskets. Here's your money being spent as carefully as possible. 

We've raised nearly $9,000 so far. We've spent just over $5,000. This includes another 27 baskets delivered to Makeni by KAB 2 days ago. I'm back to Conakry, Guinea for a few days.

Some of the remaining fund is still in the form of pledges. To those I say please send when you can. Details in the previous posts, or email me direct ( Anyone else who would like to donate, no matter how small; please, you are most welcome. I'd like to keep going until Christmas at least. 

The mood in our vehicle by now was subdued, sombre almost. It had been a long day. The last village was Dumpa Line. The lone survivor from 8 in this house. 

Dead were 5 adults and 2 children. Pictured is Abdulai Fofanah. Poor Abdulai looks sick. Uncle Abdulai has lost 7 people close to him. He looks weak, confused... He seemed to know his fate. We left a basket. He struggled to open the cheese triangles, the first thing he took from the basket. A sad sight. The neighbours looked on from their own nearby houses talking quietly to themselves. A policeman appeared. He smelt of alcohol and looked like he'd been taking substance.  

2 days following this photo Abdulai died. Nurse Isha called for the burial team. 

We then delivered 3 baskets at Mabenseneh Hospital in Lunsar. This is funded by the Catholic Church. It was in this hospital another quiet hero contracted Ebola and later died following evacuation to Madrid. Spanish missionary, Manuel Garcia Viejo, worked here as a Medical Director. People speak fondly of the love they had for him. He was 69 years old.

We have to finish on an upbeat note. To another part of Lunsar, New London. Here KAB delivered a special basket to now 9 months old Yaya and family. You may remember Yaya from a recent post, 'Farewell to Conakry'. KAB had also collected toys and clothes for Yaya. 

In Yaya's extended family there were 16 members. 8 are dead, including the parents. The grandmother was the first to die after caring for a sick relative. The father was next, then the mother, and other family members. 3 children, including Yaya, never tested positive for Ebola. You may remember Yaya was breastfeeding when his mother passed.

5 of his older siblings were tested positive after caring for their dying parents. Miraculously        all survived the virus after receiving early treatment. Yaya, along with his surviving siblings, are being lovingly cared for by his aunt. A nice place to finish...

Forget rewriting Band Aid 30. Rewrite 'If' by Rudyard Kipling...

If you can dream - Sierra Leone could even have a rudimentary healthcare system;
If you can dream - politicians can think beyond themselves;
If you can dream - all people could have access to Ebola treatment centres after 6 months of waiting;
If you can dream - all quarantined homes could all have food, and quarantine means just that;
If you can dream - specialist monitoring teams all over the country - there isn't

If you can meet with Disaster... that's what this is...

Thank you - to all the team today. Outstanding. Not easy stuff. KAB - did 90% of the work on this one, particularly in the preparation. That's where the hard work is done. Baby Diva, once again conquering fear. Senior Diva for keeping our business afloat during these absences. Kofie M of Camserve, who generously loaned us a truck for the day, and supplied the charcoal and water. Isha and her team from the Catholic Church in Lunsar. To all of you who've donated, and battled through MoneyGram, you've made a difference in plenty of lives. 

Not about any of us though, it's about the poor souls in these photos and the countless others suffering at the moment all over the country, as well as in Guinea & Liberia...

Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Marooned in Monrovia

'Marooned in Monrovia'

The deserted beaches in Monrovia.

I should open with an admission. The last post, 'Freetown Food Basket Delivery', with nearly 1,000 viewings is a difficult act to follow. This post lacks the power and punch of last time out. 

Yep, stuck in Liberia. Came for 4 days. Looks likely now 11. Perhaps longer. Every child should know a couple of good jokes for school, and to occasionally entertain us adults. Postscript at the end... using the word 'marooned'...

Let's begin with good news. In Liberia the rate of new Ebola infections appears to be declining. The death toll from the outbreak had remained under 5,000 for quite some time, relatively speaking. However, as I put the finishing touches to this post, it has risen to 5,160. Exponential increases have at least stopped, for now... 

Liberia has been the most affected country. Nearly half the cases. Nearly half the deaths. Thankfully, the recent numbers are far better than the projections of a few weeks back. 

As a result there's quiet optimism, here in Monrovia, at this downward trend across different parts of the country. No one is claiming this particular war is won. A false dawn? A turning point? Time will tell...

My heartfelt thanks to those who've pledged. Even greater thanks to those who've both pledged and donated. Talking of donations...

Where many of you are sat, in great comfort, maybe with a glass of chilled wine, some nibbles, flicking through 100 channels complaining there's never anything on, having a snooze on the lazy boy after a hard day at the office, newspaper across your lap... maybe you're relaxing in bed with your iPad or Kindle...

Darling? Have you sent our pledge? 

I've tried honey, doesn't work on line, what's with this MoneyGrab thing? It's not straightforward sending money to West Africa. The bank is sending verification emails. Africaland is full of crooks. I bet they all have the same mobile number. Africa 419419.... a complete pain...

Darling, calm down; Mark says you have to persevere, it's actually easier taking cash to an outlet. Somewhere like a Post Office. 

Honey, a post what, a post box... why can't we do this on-line, or bank to bank, don't they have internet banking out there?

Darling, you're right of course. But, just for once... take the cash to the MoneyGram outlet, say the recipient is Mark Reading. He's in Freetown, Sierra Leone. They'll convert the cash to Leones. They'll give you a code which we'll email to Mark. He'll need it when he collects the money. Darling, one more thing...

Yes Honey...

Darling, I love you even more when you're all hot and bothered, put that iPad down...

Sorry readers. Becoming carried away. Come on, in all seriousness, get sending. More than half of you have worked through it, everyone can. I've collected nearly 20 MoneyGrams. The system works. Johnny A... you can pull your finger out as well...

Liberia's largest treatment centre.

Funny how most global crises attract celebrities. None here yet, that's if you discount Julia Greening, and Philip Hammond. I know, Julia who... 

Photo ops aren't exactly plentiful. Who looks good wearing a zombie suit? We've had... no Hollywood types. No world leaders. No George C. No David B. No Bozo. None of the usual suspects. As some say in Ireland, what's the difference between God and Bono? God doesn't wander around Dublin thinking he's Bono. 

Come on world leaders, let's have someone here who can help give this more oxygen. It's slowly disappearing from the news again. However, some leaders do deserve a mention. President Obama - take a bow. You've been a voice of reason. David Cameron and the UK - slow, but you're making up for it. Bill Gates Foundation - brilliant. Bill Clinton Foundation - same. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - outstanding. China - reasonable effort. Russia - do you ever do anything on the world stage. Mainland Europe - where have most of you been? France being a notable exception. 

Special mention time. Lifetime achievement award. Goes to Cuba. What they've done in areas that really matter should be recognised. Thank you Havanna. Their contribution has been real, and greatly appreciated.  

Celebrities do though have a modern way of inserting themselves into a crisis. Like it actually matters what they think. There's 2 ends of this scale. There's the 21 year old singer telling his followers on Twitter his thoughts on Ebola, someone who couldn't find these countries on a map. At the other end of the scale there's buffoons like Donald Trump. He tweeted in early August, "The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected back. People that go to faraway places to help out are great - but they must suffer the consequences!" 

I did meet a real local celebrity, the former mayor of Monrovia; a celebrity, no question. Mary T Broh. Aka, 'The General'. Mary is worth numerous Hollywood types. Fantastic character who really shook up Monrovia during her tenure. She had allies. She made enemies. Look her up on-line. Africa needs more people like Mary. Fight the status quo. Fight the good fight. Fight vested interests. Make a difference. She did all that and more. Two hours in her company was priceless. Some love her. Some not so. But so, so passionate and energetic...

This was my second visit to Liberia. The idea of the blog was founded here in Jan this year. Post No 1 was Monrovia. In the past 30 days I've spent 10 days in Guinea, 9 days in Sierra Leone, and 11 in Liberia. The ultimate trip through Ebolastan. 

I like Liberia. I walked near my hotel at the weekend and passed someone who called over, "Hey, White Dog, whatsup?" In these situations, what do you do? He had plenty of bling and looked fairly sharp. He joined me on my walk. He was about "5.6". I asked him what he did. Basketball player came the reply. Shouldn't basket players be tall? He told me he had a great spring. He demonstrated along the roadside with an imaginary basketball. Whilst no salmon, he did get up high. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Vincent. 

He asked where I was going. I told him to take a few snaps for my blog. I'd been out for a run earlier from my hotel in Paynesville. The Golden Key. I now wanted to capture Liberia's largest Ebola treatment centre, and then the national stadium. I had run to both and around the local area earlier. Vincent was now my guide. He told me he was also a gospel singer who wrote his own music. Sing me a song I suggested. Vincent wasn't the bashful type. Actually he had a pretty good voice. Then out of the blue he demonstrated his leap again. When the camera came out, it was difficult to get him out of shot. He's in most photos. Liberia isn't short of characters. 'White Dog' enjoyed his company. We've been in touch since by email. He wants to sell me some diamonds... Vincent was high on life, or perhaps Peruvian marching powder...    

The photo of Vince was taken at Samuel K Doe Stadium. A pitch that George Weah would have graced a while back.The stadium has seen better days, but fortunately I had Vince to light it up. Samuel Doe was a former President of Liberia. He gained power in a military coup in 1980. He killed the then incumbent President Tolbert, and later had 13 member of Tolbert's cabinet paraded naked through Monrovia before they were executed by firing squad on the beach. 

What happened to Doe? Well, not unsurprisingly he lived by the sword, he died the same way. He was overthrown in a coup in 1990. He was stripped, tortured and died in the custody of Prince Johnson, a factional rebel leader allied to Charles Taylor. The torture included cutting off his ears and fingers. During which Johnson was famously filmed drinking a can of Budweiser and being fanned by his aides. Remarkably Prince Johnson rehabilitated whilst in exile in Nigeria came back and ran for election in 2011. He finished third. He's currently a serving senator in Nimba County.  

Let's get back on track to the 'Food Basket Appeal'. The amount pledged is nearly $9k. A major delivery is taking place tomorrow, hence the need to push this post out (managed to depart Monrovia after 11 days last Thurs). $4,000 has been spent from the fund this week. We are heading to Marampa Chiefdom with a truck and 2 cars early tomorrow. This effort is huge compared to Freetown. We'll also be catching up with Yaya the young Ebola survivor mentioned in a recent post from Conakry.

Postscript: The joke for kids. There was a purple family who decided to take a purple holiday. They embarked on a purple boat across the purple sea. The purple boat sank. They were washed up on a purple island. The purple dad walked along the purple sand in the purple sunrise... he looked up at the purple sky and shrieked... we've been marooned...

See you again soon in Marampa Chiefdom...

Follow on Twitter: @roadrunnertns