Training for Transformation

United Methodist Women in Sierra Leone: Hope and Health in the Age of COVID-19

United Methodist Women in Sierra Leone: Hope and Health in the Age of COVID-19
The Sierra Leone Country Team prepares supplies.

As COVID-19 has harmed already vulnerable women, the United Methodist Women Sierra Leone Country Team has provided resources and encouragement to widows, the aged, single parents and the needy in Sierra Leone.

The ban on air travel, inter-district lockdowns and a highly limited business atmosphere have had a downward effect on the national economy and a spillover effect on livelihoods. While lockdowns were eased a week ago, many women have struggled to survive. Rural women who normally rely on farming as a means of livelihood could not travel to their farms; and small business owners have experienced losses. Thus, the economic impact of the pandemic has been severe on women.

Country Teams

United Methodist Women’s emergency grant has provided hope for women in Sierra Leone through the Country Team’s swift response. Country Teams are in-country local working teams on the ground through United Methodist Women. The teams, led by the Regional Missionaries, consist of intergenerational United Methodist Women and United Methodist Church leaders. Country Team members plan, lead and coordinate local needs assessment, work with local women to prioritize the needs and design locally appropriate programs. This approach to community development ensures local ownership and ongoing sustainability. The Sierra Leone team has been taking messages of hope, sanitizing materials and food and non-food items to rural women in four regions.

Sierra Leone Country Team member Ethel Sandy said, “When pandemics like COVID-19 occur, it is usually women and children who suffer.” Hence, she advised the women she encounters to take care of themselves by obeying the health ministry’s messages. She tells the women, “We have a moderate gift for you but that is not the only reason why we are here. We are here mainly with coronavirus messages. Our key message is, ‘Don’t give up! Use facemasks when in public places; wash hands regularly; don’t go out if you don’t have to.’” She shared more details with women about the infection, prevention and control of COVID-19. She concluded, “Take care! Don’t give up! If we fight the pandemic together, it will end quickly.”

United Methodist Women Emergency Response Grant

The emergency response grant from United Methodist Women mainly supports elderly women, widows, single parents and the needy in Port Loko, Lunsar, Moyamba, Rotifunk, Pujehun and the Western Rural districts. More than 200 families, including female pastors, were visited by the team. Each household received a food pack containing coronavirus education leaflets, toiletries, rice and cooking condiments, breakfast food items and sanitizing materials.

“I am lost for words; I am overwhelmed,” said Jabulay Tombor, one of the women in Pujehun, amid clapping and cheers from her peers. “This is the first time we are receiving gifts from people outside of our district. And I am not surprised that it is from the United Methodist Women,” she said. She reported that the lockdown has made life even more difficult. “Our community suffered a lot during the lockdown. We could barely afford a decent meal because some of the items we needed for a good meal are normally purchased from other districts.”

In Port Loko, Marion Fatmata Sesay expressed gratitude for the items received. “I’m glad for the gifts we received today. The condiments received have reduced cooking expenses for my household as it will go a long way in alleviating hunger especially among my kids in the home. Before COVID-19, we could go to neighboring villages to trade and earn a living. But all that is limited now. We are therefore grateful for the little gifts our sisters have brought. They will sustain us for the next few days,” Ms. Sesay said.

Ms. Sesay appreciated the fliers with messages about COVID-19. She said there was initially a denial of COVID-19 in her community, but that attitude has subsided due to the continuous messaging. She promised to share her flier with her neighbors.

According to Briana Bam, a member of the Sierra Leone Country Team, “United Methodist Women during this COVID-19 epidemic provided food items to the less privileged homes. Prayers were offered before each distribution: To know more about God and to expand the concept of mission work.”

Spiritual and Physical Health

Edith Rogers, another team member, agrees, “Spiritual health and physical health are related because during this COVID-19 pandemic, distribution of toiletries and essential foods, like rice, sugar, etc. by UMW helped families make up for a sudden decline in income. We continue to strive to go forward in mission of faith, hope and love and to stay connected.”

Home visits, psycho-social counseling, and radio discussions were all activities in which United Methodist Women in Sierra Leone reached out to members and non-members of the United Methodist Church. The outreach served, too, as evangelism, according to Sarah Jalloh, the Sierra Leone United Methodist Women President and Country Team member. Ms. Jalloh reported that, “Through such activities we have been able to sensitize and educate our members which helps in preventing and tackling COVID-19. Our experience with the Ebola fight helped us greatly in this fight. As women, we have drawn on our experiences to manage as we are the ones who suffer most during such crises.”

Keziah Kargbo is a journalist on the United Methodist Women Sierra Leone Country Team.

Posted or updated: 8/20/2020 12:00:00 AM

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United Methodist Women Economic Development Initiative (EDI) creates economic opportunities even in the most vulnerable rural communities. The seed grants support women entrepreneurs to start and run viable small enterprises, agribusinesses and income-generating activities. The opportunities that these small grants create for women, their families and communities are powerful catalysts, especially during COVID-19 when the economic situation is becoming more and more insecure.