Sierra Leone United Methodist Women Struggles to Respond to Ebola

Sierra Leone United Methodist Women Struggles to Respond to Ebola
Carol Van-Gorp, Andris Salter, Beatrice Fofanah, Kezia Williams and Donna Akuamoah at the UMW national office.

Sierra Leone United Methodist Women is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone while struggling to be a supportive community for members, reported the women’s national coordinator in a Sept. 30 meeting at the United Methodist Women national office in New York.

Beatrice Fofanah, national coordinator of Sierra Leone United Methodist Women, said the organization has been purchasing and delivering rice to families, including those in some of the quarantined areas, even as members must contend with the crisis themselves.

“United Methodist Women members, just like all the rest of the women in Sierra Leone, are feeling the impact of the Ebola crisis because the impact is so overwhelming,” she said. “The country was recovering after war. Now we’re back to zero. … Government hospitals are closed because caregivers are dying. All of the schools are closed, so our children are not going to school. Food is a major crisis. Ebola started during the farming season, and so people had to abandon their farms. Our borders are closed, so food doesn’t come into the country as it should. Prices have skyrocketed. People are dying from other diseases, because if they exhibit any Ebola symptoms, no one will touch them.”

Fofanah said there is also a ban on the assembly of groups.

“We only defy the rules to go to church and Bible study because that is what is going to see us through,” Fofanah said. “And even when we go to church, there’s no hugging, no shaking hands.”

Sierra Leone United Methodist Women’s outreach is part of the denomination’s comprehensive Ebola response effort, Fofanah said. Working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief and other faith organizations, The United Methodist Church of Sierra Leone spearheaded an interfaith response, which, among other efforts, has included:

  • Formation of the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola.
  • Aggressive media and community group campaigns to educate the public on the causes, symptoms and prevention of Ebola.
  • Work with community leaders to disseminate information about ways to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Aggressive training of religious leaders and workers at faith-based health facilities.
  • Distribution of 800 sets of personal protective equipment including garments, boots, shoe covers, headgear, gloves, goggles, facial masks, etc. for health care workers. 

“As more hospitals close, and health care workers die or refuse to go to work, Bishop John Yambasu has said our United Methodist health facilities must remain open and be there for the people,” Fofanah said. “There are so many groups trying to respond. We are walking together as United Methodists to respond to this crisis.”

With the support of members’ Mission Giving, United Methodist Women has been able to provide life-saving emergency grants during this crisis. Sierra Leone sisters received a grant for their work with Ebola orphans, and Indiana United Methodist Women provided a grant for crisis work in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, United Methodist Women of the Liberia Annual Conference have been granted $6,300 for Ebola virus education to help prevent this disease from spreading further.

Yvette Moore is editor of response.

Posted or updated: 10/1/2014 11:00:00 PM