Today in West Africa -- where a widespread outbreak of Ebola has already claimed more than 1,000 lives -- Salesian missionaries in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone are doing what they can to contribute to the containment of this deadly disease. The need is vast -- and critical, which is why Salesian Missions has launched an Ebola Emergency Fund.
The situation is nothing short of grim. As the virus continues to spread -- virtually unchecked -- local health care systems are collapsing. Medical workers who haven’t been infected are increasingly abandoning their posts for fear they will be. Many hospitals, already ill-equipped to handle an epidemic of this magnitude and severity, are literally overwhelmed with patients. Others have been shut down for lack of staff, lack of proper protective equipment, or because of contamination.
Further, in rural outposts throughout the region, the misperception that health care workers are responsible for spreading the virus means that many villagers refuse to seek medical attention when they fall ill. This not only increases the spread of Ebola, but also means that people are not being checked for, and sometimes dying of, easily treatable diseases like malaria, typhoid fever or cholera. For all these reasons, the World Health Organization has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.
“The population lives in fear,” says Sister Barbara Brilliant, a Franciscan nun working in close solidarity with Salesian missionaries in the capital city of Monrovia, Liberia. “Unlike the war, when you could run and hide or flee the country, there is no running from Ebola.”
This is why Salesian missionaries -- in collaboration with a broad alliance of other Catholic and humanitarian organizations in the region -- are using whatever resources and channels they have to care for the ill, dispel rumors and misinformation about the virus and its spread, and -- most crucially -- educate the population on proper prevention and sanitation techniques.
They are doing what they can. But they desperately need your help.
In Liberia, for example, five young volunteers -- at great personal risk -- have formed the Dominic Savio & Don Bosco coalition, whose purpose is to reach out to those living in rural and interior areas of the country. They provide basic information and instructions from the Ministry of Health; distribute gloves, long-sleeved shirts and chlorine for disinfecting; and deliver food and water to those stricken with Ebola but who are too sick, or too scared, to travel to a hospital.
In order to provide these supplies, the coalition knocks on doors to ask already impoverished and fearful neighbors to share what they can.The need is vast, yet there is only so much these earnest volunteers can do without additional financial support.
In Sierra Leone -- where forty percent of the total reported cases in this outbreak have occurred, and where efforts to contain its spread are described as an “exhausting struggle” -- Salesian missionaries are sharing supplies of rice with other religious orders working directly with the sick in the few hospitals that remain open, and leveraging an annual youth summer camp as a means of teaching prevention.
More than 200 youth are attending the camp, where they are learning how to wash their hands, how to properly disinfect surfaces, and how to adjust deeply imbedded cultural habits such as frequent hugging and handshaking. In turn, youth teach the younger children, and also bring the information home to their families and villages at the end of each day.
“We need to reduce the feeling of fear and panic among the people, and try to educate them through their children,” says Father Uba, Director of Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown.
Additional significant obstacles challenge Salesian missionaries and other relief workers hoping to stem the tide in Sierra Leone. Starvation is also a very real concern, as local markets have been shuttered and many farmers, who would otherwise be planting crops, have died. People who once barely survived on a few dollars a day can no longer work to pay for food.
“We are doing all we can,” says Fr. Uba. “Still, I believe this situation will get worse. I must take this opportunity to beseech our friends and benefactors to join efforts with us -- to help the Salesians working in these difficult circumstances and fighting for the eradication of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”
In Ghana -- where rumors of Ebola cases are circulating but have not been officially confirmed -- the Don Bosco Youth Network of West Africa is heading an aggressive public education campaign to prevent the kind of humanitarian disaster Ebola has wrought in neighboring countries.
“In Ghana, basic hygiene and health safety is limited in the media, despite what’s happening literally next door,” says David Mensah, coordinator of the network. “And, given the porous nature of Ghana’s borders, it is imperative that we act immediately to inform and educate so that we may save lives.”
The campaign will use materials for television and radio broadcast, as well as flyers, posters, banners, billboards and other visual materials to be posted throughout the country -- including remote areas where TV and radio are unavailable. Don Bosco Network is also developing plans to share these materials with Salesian youth centers in Nigeria, which is reporting new cases daily.
This crucial effort -- neither Ghana’s Ministry of Health nor its government has launched any public education initiatives -- is completely un-funded. It is only through outside sponsorships and other financial support that it can succeed.
These efforts are but a few examples of ongoing work in the midst of the outbreak, which Salesian missionaries are committed to seeing through. Every day is an uphill battle. Your response can literally help us save lives.
Please support our dedicated Ebola Emergency Fund today. No matter the amount, you will help us supply critical relief items -- such as gloves, bleach, medical equipment and food -- to these countries in desperate need. You will also help us educate the people about hygiene and prevention to hopefully stop the spread of this horrific disease.
We provide emergency relief in times of crisis. Thank you for making our mission, your mission.