In the aftermath of the devastating Ebola epidemic that swept through West Africa last year, new hope is blooming in a particularly hard-hit village of Sierra Leone. Nurtured by the safe, clean water of a newly installed well, this hope may prove transformational for the village’s tenacious survivors.
Kumbrabai, located just 100 kilometers from the capital city of Freetown and only accessible via poorly constructed country roads, is surrounded by dense vegetation that during the rainy season turns into soggy marshland. Still, its 270 residents once worked together under challenging weather conditions, frequent water shortages and other threats to grow crops and raise animals for their common benefit.
Then Ebola came. In all its ruthless fury, the virus wiped out several entire families and in other families, it spared just one survivor. All told, 82 villagers succumbed to Ebola, and 65 more who were infected fled the village. Those who remained became victims of another sort -- shunned by their own people who became afraid to enter homes where someone died; the community was stigmatized and isolated by other villages out of fear.
Their future looked bleak. With fewer people to work the fields, how would they eat? With little knowledge of how to prevent another outbreak, how could they ensure their survival?
Fortunately, thanks to assistance from Salesian missionaries who began visiting and distributing food, water and other aid during the epidemic, they now have an answer -- one that will help improve their health, upgrade hygiene and sanitation practices and enhance their agricultural capacity and success.
“Our missionaries developed a fondness for the people of Kumbrabai as they helped the villagers cope with Ebola’s effects,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “And from the start, they resolved to support concrete, sustainable projects that could help villagers become more self-sufficient and see the future with hope. This new well is just one small step toward that overall vision.”
Villagers used the same small swamp of dirty water for drinking, washing, watering their animals and even as a toilet. Fr. Mark stresses that “the importance of a clean water source cannot be overstated.” In addition to providing safe drinking water, it offers the opportunity for people to learn healthy habits, like hand washing, that can help protect against many diseases. And, it provides further insurance for growing food. Before the well, nearly two-thirds of Kumbrabai’s crops were annually lost to weather conditions, including drought.
Looking ahead, missionaries plan to further expand agricultural expertise among the villagers by teaching new farming techniques and animal management practices, and distributing seeds. And, they intend to create a local school where children can -- for the very first time -- begin their primary education.
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