What would you choose: Safe Water or an Education?
In most villages in Sierra Leone, school-age girls and boys walk up to five miles a day to fetch water for their families. By the time they get back home they are physically exhausted from carrying 40-pound jugs of water on their heads. To make matters worse, many of these children are unable to attend school regularly because they waste so much time just carrying water.
Imagine the terrible choice faced today by their mothers – water or an education for their children!
But, with assistance from Bread and Water for Africa®, several communities are making progress. There is hope. A little goes a long way and we hope to raise $15,000 by the end of this month to provide fresh water for years to come to thousands of grateful families – and children who will be in the classroom getting an education instead of doing a mindless chore.
Once again, from all of us at Bread and Water for Africa®, our hearts go out to the people of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone has had a history of natural disasters and violence. In the 1990s they suffered through a horrific civil war, then in 2014 the country lost over 4,000 of its citizens from the deadly Ebola virus outbreak leaving the struggling nation, already among the poorest in the world, devastated.
And then, just as the country was returning to some semblance of normalcy, in the early morning hours of August 14, after days of unrelenting rain, a sea of mud and rock came crashing down into the suburbs of the nation’s capital of Freetown. Initial reports stated 500 are confirmed dead, including 150 children, with more than 600 people still missing. In addition, 20,000 inhabitants, including 5,000 children, have been displaced.
Media reports in the days that followed highlighted the harrowing details of the tragedy, including the fact that the worst is yet to come as rain continued, food and medical supplies are low and it is doubtful that there will be any more survivors found, more than doubling the death toll.
The actual number of victims is difficult to know. Given the force of the mudslide, a volunteer told the British news agency that more than a week after the disaster, “We are still finding body parts in the rubble.”
The most vulnerable are the young children made orphans by this catastrophe.
In an August 24 ABC news report, charities in Sierra Leone (such as Bread and Water for Africa® and our long-time partner, Faith Healing Development Organization (FHDO)) “are grappling with how to help the hundreds of children who have lost parents. It is particularly difficult in a country where just two years ago, a deadly Ebola outbreak decimated many families.”
The Sierra Leone government estimates that at least 4,000 children have been affected and humanitarian aid groups, like Bread and Water for Africa®, are racing to help prevent orphaned children from further trauma.
In addition to the challenges of treating their injuries and providing food and shelter, there is the real fear that child traffickers will be seeking to exploit the situation in Freetown.
“They are especially vulnerable right now,” an aid worker told ABC news. “We saw cases like this during the Ebola outbreak where individuals will come in, say they want to care for a child, take him or her into their home and then abuse them. So we are seeing this as a situation that’s ripe for that kind of exploitation and we want to prevent it.”
According to UNICEF, of the 7,000 people that have registered as being affected by the disaster, 15 percent, or 1050 individuals, are children under the age of 5, with another 40 percent, or 2,800 between the ages of 6 and 18.
“Children have been left homeless, vulnerable and terrified,” stated a UNICEF spokesman. “We must do all we can to protect them from disease and exploitation.”
Safe drinking water and shelter are the immediate priorities for thousands of people, according to the United Nations.
With destruction and damage to water and sanitation facilities, a major concern for government and health officials is an outbreak of cholera, malaria and other infectious diseases.
The country’s deputy health minister told CNN that some residents have skin infections from the water they are washing in, and officials are putting in place plans for cholera preparedness and prevention.
“We are equipped to a point,” the deputy minister said. “We can’t do it alone.”
The presidential spokesman has appealed for more international aid including medical supplies, shelters, and blankets to help the city recover but warns that there is “a high risk of cholera” with people still living in the devastated areas, without clean water and sanitation.
“We are overstretched,” he told CNN. “We were just on the verge of recuperating after Ebola and the civil war. We are overwhelmed. Sierra Leone is a small country with a small economy and we cannot do this alone…we appeal very passionately to the world to come to our aid.”
The World Health Organization reports that it is working closely with the Sierra Leone government to prevent the spread of malaria, cholera, typhoid and diarrheal conditions in the wake of last week’s mudslides and flooding. Community workers are being trained to recognize the signs of these deadly diseases in areas at risk.
What Bread and Water for Africa® is Doing Today
During the deadly Ebola outbreak of 2014, Bread and Water for Africa® was there working hand-in-hand with FHDO in their efforts to provide medicines and food to thousands.
And thanks to our generous supporters, we are there for them once again.
With food and medicine in short supply, we teamed up with our partner, MAP International, to have emergency medicine immediately airlifted to the country.
In addition, we have teamed up with FHDO to provide food and other medical supplies.
With the funding we received from our donors, FHDO Executive Director Rev. Frances Mambu was able to purchase rice, oil and many other food and hygiene items for the injured, hungry and homeless.
And in a few weeks we will be shipping a 20-foot container of more medicines and medical supplies recognizing that the pain and suffering will continue for the months to come.
With sincere thanks to our supporters and partners, Bread and Water for Africa® will be doing all we can to alleviate the suffering of thousands in Sierra Leone.
With your help this summer, Bread and Water for Africa® hopes to raise enough funds to construct a plant in Sierra Leone to process cassava into gari.
So exactly what is cassava?
While most Americans may not have heard of cassava, an edible starchy tuberous root, it is more commonly called “yuca” in Spanish and in the United States.
Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in tropical countries after rice and maize, and is a major food staple in the developing world, providing a basic diet for more than a half a billion people, including millions in Sierra Leone.
In addition, it is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing in marginal soils. It was introduced to Africa by Portuguese traders from Brazil in the 16th century and is now an important staple food, replacing native African crops, and is sometimes described as “the bread of the tropics.”
And what is gari?
Gari is cassava root, dried and ground into flour and, according to our partner in Sierra Leone, Rev. Francis Mambu, executive director of Faith Healing Development Organization (FHDO), is a popular West African food constituting a daily meal to some 150 million people worldwide.
Rev. Mambu tells us gari is not only rich in starch, but also very high in proteins and some essential vitamins and is very high in fiber which makes it very filling while preventing bowel disease.
One could say it’s the “superfood” of Sierra Leone.
But why would FHDO want to operate a cassava processing plant?
The answer is simple, to provide income to women farmers – many who have taken orphans whose parents died in the tragic Ebola outbreak into their homes – as well as generating income for FHDO itself to operate its clinics and schools.
Already, FHDO has planted more than 10 acres of cassava to be distributed to women in the Yainkassa Village in the Bombali District who will plant them on their own land and tend to them until they mature and are ready to be harvested in six months. After the initial harvest, the women farmers will be able to continue harvesting the cassava at three-month intervals.
Once the processing plant is in operation, FHDO will be able to purchase all the cassava the women can grow, guaranteeing them a reliable place to sell what they produce at fair prices.
But then what will FHDO do with all the gari it produces?
And here’s the beauty of this whole plan – FHDO will sell the gari back to the farmers who grew it at wholesale prices so they can go out and sell in their local community markets, in effect selling the same product twice and making two profits.
Why is this processing plant so necessary?
“The people of Sierra Leone were seriously affected by the Ebola virus disease outbreak,” says Rev. Mambu. “Especially the women and children.”
Rev. Mambu told us that women from 11 villages – totaling about 500 farmers – have been targeted to participate in the project.
That amounts to 500 households with thousands of children, many of whom are Ebola orphans who would have nowhere to go except for the caring and compassionate women who have taken them in and given them a loving home.
These women need a steady income to provide for their own children, as well as the ones they have taken in. They need to be able to put food on the table for them – every day – pay their school fees and purchase school uniforms, to be able to pay the medical bills when they get sick.
And the cassava process plant will enable them to do just that.
Rev. Francis Mambu puts it this way: “Access to safe drinking water is a challenge. Presently, the community does not have a running tap.
“The school children travel far distances to fetch water which is really affecting their education.”
Not to mention putting their health and their very lives at risk by being forced to drink water from unsafe sources such as streams, ponds – even puddles in the middle of a muddy unpaved road – risking cholera, dysentery, Typhoid fever and parasites by sipping just even a mouthful.
But what other choice do these girls and their families have?
In 2015, Bread and Water for Africa® provided funding to Rev. Mambu’s organization, Faith Healing Development Organization, to dig a well at a school at the community known as Waterloo in Sierra Leone.
And right now, today, Bread and Water for Africa® is in the process of digging a well in the community of Hill Station which is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.
Imagine, children, primarily little girls who spend their days walking miles back and forth carrying as much water they can put on the their heads will instead be able to go to school.
And, they and their families won’t have to risk serious illness, and even death, drinking water from questionable sources.
Last fall, Bread and Water for Africa® was successful in applying for a $10,000 grant from the Neilom Foundation at the University of Maryland College Park to dig a well at Hill Station. A New Well for Hill Station, Sierra Leone.
Not only will the well serve the Imatt Primary School where it is to be located, allowing children to remain in school instead of fetching water and not taking a life-or-death chance every time they take a drink of water, but thousands of families will also be assured of clean, safe, uncontaminated water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing – all from just one single well.