By Holly Frew, Emergency Communications Officer
The smell of boiling bananas fills the air as Musu Sesay prepares banana cakes that she hopes her teenage daughter will be able sell for some desperately needed income. She worries about her daughter’s safety now that she has to sell the cakes to rowdy men in the neighborhood. Musu wishes that she could do the selling herself like she’s always done. But she must stay home with the younger children to assure they don’t wander into a nearby Ebola-quarantined home. Living in Sierra Leone, this is the new reality for Musu and her family.
No one in Musu’s family has been infected with Ebola, but they are still suffering because of it. Before Ebola, Musu, a business trader, and her husband, a farmer, were able to support their five children selling their harvested vegetables, as well as banana cake in the local market and the schools. Their livelihood depended on them both being able to travel to their family farm in a nearby district to harvest crops to sell. Now they can’t leave their district because of the Ebola travel restrictions. Musu’s husband is out of work, and her business is suffering severely.
“Ebola is like a secret war that has not only killed Sierra Leoneans but has also indirectly shattered our livelihoods and security. It has left us in a state of anarchy and despair,” Musu said. “I don’t know when this tragedy will come to pass and I am worried what will come of me and my family as Ebola cases are increasing on a daily basis, especially in my district.”
Musu continues to try and support the family by selling her banana cakes, but now she is forced to buy bananas at an inflated price rather than harvest her own. Not only is her profit margin decreased, but her sales have plummeted. Before Ebola, Musu would go to the market and the school to sell her goods, while her children were in school. Now school is closed, which has significantly impacted Musu’s sales and forced her to stay home with her young children to make sure they don’t go anywhere that could put them in danger of infection. Musu hates having to send her teenage daughter out to sell the cakes knowing she’s not only in danger of infection, but also of sexual violence.
“Most of the people live on farming and trading, and the country coming to a standstill is destroying people’s livelihoods,” said Alex B. Kiembe, CARE Ebola response Emergency Team Leader in Sierra Leone. “People are getting hungry and they are desperate to make ends meet.”
Before the Ebola outbreak, CARE operated 1,000 village savings and loans associations(VSLA) throughout Sierra Leone comprised of over 25,000 members. These VSLA groups met weekly to pool their savings, make loans to each other, and reinvest the proceeds in their businesses. Now they are unable to hold their weekly meetings; and members are unable to access or reimburse their credit. As a consequence, members, especially women, find themselves in a more and more vulnerable economic situation.
With Sierra Leone in state of emergency, CARE is focused on helping stop the spread of Ebola, so women like Musu can have their lives back. CARE staff is working with trusted community leaders to ensure that accurate messages on the Ebola virus, prevention and treatment are being delivered to combat any myths circulating around the virus and reduce stigma. They are also promoting proper hygiene and distributing household hand washing stations.
CARE’s Kiembe said the people of Sierra Leone are eager to stand up and help fight this virus as most of them now believe that the disease exists. Many are applying for health personnel jobs at the Community Care Centers and the Ebola Holding Centres. When asked if people are afraid of infection working at the healthcare centers, Kiembe said: “Their desire for livelihood is greater than their fear of infection as life is becoming very difficult every day.”
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