Last week was the 5-year anniversary of the first Ebola case confirmed in Sierra Leone as the initial infection was reported in Kailahun on May 25th, 2014. Seven days later there were 7 more confirmed cases and in less than two months there were 442 cases and 206 deaths. At the time, new cases were being reported at the rate of 80 per week.
According to the International Business Times, the virus is thought to have originated when a child in a bat-hunting family (fruit bats are often consumed as food) contracted the disease in Guinea in December 2013. Transmission is believed to be by contact with the blood and body fluids of those infected with the virus, as well as by handling raw bush meat such as bats and monkeys. In March of 2014, Reuters reported that Guinea officials announced the outbreak of a mysterious hemorrhagic fever “which strikes like lightning”.
The biggest challenge being faced by health workers was finding the sick people and treating them before they could infect others. The effort included understanding the “chains of transmission” which proved difficult to trace. One reason experts believe the virus spread so quickly is the traditional funeral practices, especially of the Kissi people. The Kissi are a tribe near the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – not far from Kailahun. Their funeral practices include rubbing the corpses down with oil, dressing them in fine clothes, then having those at the funeral hug and kiss the dead. The epidemic is thought to have spread to Sierra Leone in late May when 14 people returned from a funeral of a traditional healer, who had been trying to cure others with Ebola in Guinea. That funeral alone sparked a chain reaction of 365 deaths in Sierra Leone.
Even in the early days, Ebola was not fatal for those with the illness caught early and treated. In July, even though the virus was raging in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded that “50 patients had been treated and released”. There was hope!
Dr. Zabulon Yoti, a WHO team leader and Kailahun emergency coordinator explained, “To succeed in actively finding the sick people, community participation is vital. With financial support from partners, we recruited, trained and equipped 20 volunteers with mobile phones in each of the 14 chiefdoms. Some 300 volunteers were charged with contact tracing and alerting the Ministry of Health on any suspect cases or deaths.”
One of the early innovations was the use of what became known as the “Kenema Tent”. These tents were used in villages to allow the family of an infected person to live away from the home while the infected person was quarantined and treated. This simple solution saved countless lives. Imagine a single room home with 10 people all sleeping in the same room and sharing bedding. By the time a case of Ebola was confirmed everyone in the house would be infected. The Kenema tent allowed early separation of suspected cases.
On 12th of June, a state of emergency was declared in Kailahun, calling for the closing of schools, cinemas, and places for night-time gatherings and the screening of vehicles at checkpoints along the borders with Guinea and Liberia.
On 29thof July, tragedy struck when Sierra Leone’s only real expert of viral hemorrhagic fevers, Sheik Humarr Khan, died at the treatment center established in Kailahun. The death of Dr Khan, considered a national hero, helped to convince the public of the reality of Ebola , but it also led to questions about the safety of Kailahun’s treatment facilities.
The next week, On August 6th, Sierra Leone’s president Ernest Bai Koroma declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to quarantine hotspots. Additional closures of schools, cinemas, and places of nightlife, became an important step in the fight against the spread of the virus. Here in Kenema students today graduate from Senior Secondary School one year later than planned because of the closures of the schools during the 2014-2015 school year. Also in August, the government passed a law imposing a jail sentence of up to two years on anyone found to be hiding a patient. There was such a significant stigma associated with having an infected family member that families would often hide suspected cases.
As the fight against the deadly virus continued, survivors began to emerge from the epidemic giving rise to new social problems. According to the report issued by WHO, some who survived were branded as “witches”. Even today, signs along the road here in Kenema encourage the community to embrace, rather than disgrace, Ebola survivors. Many of the survivors longed to return to their villages only to discover that their spouses, children and siblings had been carried off to unmarked graves by the virus. One survivor, Fatimata Gaima, said, “I am learning to live a new life in the home without my husband and my 2 children. Now there is so much emptiness in the house especially at night.”
By the first week of September, the real surge in cases began as Ebola spread to Freetown where 60 confirmed cases had been reported. To prevent the further spread of the disease, in mid-September, President Koroma announced a nationwide lockdown to begin on the 19th. During that lockdown, citizens would be required to remain indoors and would have to make do with whatever food they had. Just weeks before the lockdown was announced, the Church’s Africa West Area had begun working with Church headquarters to authorize delivery of cleaning supplies for all 7,800 Latter-day Saint families and to provide a 110-pound bag of rice and several liters of cooking oil to more than 2,500 LDS families on an as-needed basis. This was an inspired life-saving effort. [see September 2015 Liahona, Never Alone in Sierra Leone by Norman C. Hill.]
Two weeks later, people were dying at the rate of up to 30 people a day. On the 4thof October, Reuters reported that 121 deaths from Ebola were recorded in the country. This was the peak. During this time, there were over 400 new cases reported every week. By the 16thof October, the last of the Districts which had been Ebola free declared cases. Now every district in the country had the dreaded virus to fight.
By December 2014, the Ebola outbreak had eased in the Eastern part of the country but continued to rage in the Western Region which included Freetown. Kailahun and Kenema were now reporting only one or two new cases each month, but 10 of the 14 Sierra Leone districts were still reporting new cases. On 5thof December over 100 new cases were reported. The government was constantly invoking lockdowns of hotspots in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.
Finally, on January 10th, 2015, Sierra Leone declared the Pujehun district in the Southern Region to be the first Ebola free district in the country, having no new cases for 42 days. With resources in terms of supplies, medical personal and money pouring in from around the world to help fight the virus, the country continued to make progress. By May 12th, Sierra Leone was down to two confirmed cases of Ebola and by August 17th the country went for their first week without an Ebola case. Between August 2015 and January 2016, several sporadic cases were reported but it appeared that the bulk of the fight was over. On March 17th, 2016, the World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone Ebola free. [References: WHO.int and en.wikipedia.org]
Sierra Leone had fought a valiant fight, against insurmountable odds. Difficult communications, lack of trust with villagers, insufficient medical testing equipment and personnel, lack of understanding how the virus spread, lack of supplies of protective gear, lack of isolation units and sufficient hospital beds, strikes at times by doctors, nurses and burial teams and even political jockeying which kept needed supplies from making their way through customs. Despite these odds, the people of Sierra Leone were victorious. This is an incredibly resilient people. First a civil war and then a deadly outbreak of Ebola, and yet they continue to persevere and some are even beginning to prosper.
On Monday morning, I took the remaining four missionaries being transferred out of Kenema to Bo where some would stay and others would move on to Freetown. Leaving were Elder Hadlock, Elder Roche, Sister Kisembe and Elder McDonald. We will miss these wonderful missionaries who have served faithfully here in Kenema. Returning with me from Bo to serve were Elder Moyo, Sister Appiah, Elder Fajardo and Elder Shill.
The missionaries who serve in the Kpayama Branch decided to move out of the Airfield apartment and into the Dauda Town apartment where there are currently only two missionaries. This will balance the load on the apartments a bit better and make it easier for the missionary pairs to cook meals. What it meant was that we needed to take some things (mattresses, luggage) from Airfield to Dauda Town to get the new pair established.
On Monday evening, we attended the Simbeck YSA family home evening at the branch building. We had been with them 2 weeks earlier and promised to come back and share some games with them.
LaDawn worked on finding and documenting 8 different games that they could play including, “The Human Knot”, “The Hand Game”, “Missionary Tag”, “Charades”, and “Pictionary”. We had a great time with them as they played and enjoyed the comradery that comes from some friendly competition. We were especially impressed that they were able to solve the human knot. Martin Foday, the Branch President was there and his ability to unravel all of the arms and bodies was impressive. We all had a great time and are so happy when we see the YSA having fun together.
On Tuesday, a newly returned missionary came over for access to the internet and some small help on submitting his application to BYU-Idaho. In this process, we have learned that in order to submit a transcript, it has to be sent to a company called IERF in California to be “translated” into a US equivalent GPA for BYU-I or any U.S. university for that matter. The cost is in my mind prohibitive for someone here in Sierra Leone. In addition, IERF requires that a paper copy of the transcript be SENT to them by mail. We have confirmed with them that they have done this for other Sierra Leonean students but they can’t tell us how the transcript was sent. Fortunately, Dempsey Wheelock, a returned missionary who served here, currently has a roommate from Sierra Leone at BYU-I. His name is Samuel and he has agreed to help this young man and his family figure this out. It would be a great blessing for a young man from Kenema to have this experience and then return back to Sierra Leone a degree from a U.S. university, bringing his leadership skills and new knowledge. More to come in the future.
LaDawn also spent time on Tuesday finishing the downloads of the Primary Videos for Dauda Town. Now we need to make a DVD of all of the videos for the branch.
On Wednesday, we had Zone Leadership Council at our apartment. This is the meeting where the Zone Leaders meet with the District Leaders and plan out the goals for the Zone for the next six weeks.
This six weeks there are three objectives that the zone will focus on: 1) Better companionship study, 2) More companionship unity and 3) more work with recent converts and those who are less active. We also talked about having effective exchanges, thinking outside of the box and the three Christ-like attributes of Patience, Diligence and Charity. These same themes were then shared the next day in the Zone Council meeting where all of the missionaries in the zone were in attendance. Both meetings were spirit filled and fit for purpose.
Wednesday afternoon, we traveled to Bo to do a little grocery shopping and then have dinner at the Moomey’s. With the new missionaries coming from Freetown between 5 and 6 pm, we knew that if the Moomey’s brought them to Kenema they would have to drive back home in the dark. We decided to ask Moomey’s if we could come and bring the missionaries to Kenema and they were so happy to oblige that they even provided dinner for us. A definite trade to our advantage we think as Sister Moomey is an excellent cook. As it turns out the mission van did not arrive until after 6 pm as they had to stop and change a tire on their way. We were happy to bring three new missionaries to Kenema: Elder Iyhinmwem, Elder Edun and Sister Ahiamata.
On Thursday, we attended Zone Council as mentioned above. In the afternoon, we helped a young man who had received a Perpetual Education Fund loan research the status of the loan and the disbursements. He recently graduated from college, but cannot get his results unless he can prove that all of the fees were paid. When we called the PEF helpdesk, we discovered that not only had none of the money been disbursed, but that the PEF office believed that he had cancelled the loan. The man we spoke with on the helpline said he would run this up his chain of command as it would require an exception to get a loan approved so late in the process. If this young single adult can get his results, he will be able to get certified by the government and begin to make a good salary as a teacher. We are praying things will work out for him.
On Friday I took the zone leaders and we headed to Tongo. Rebecca and Grace had been expected to return from Freetown (see last week’s post), but Grace took sick and their return was delayed. As it turns out while we were in Tongo word came that they had arrived in Kenema. I felt bad that we would not be able to bring them to Tongo and they would be forced to take a bike (aka, motorcycle taxi). We actually passed them on our way home. We are sure they are thrilled to be back in Tongo after being gone for an entire week, much of it unexpected. The preliminary findings on the scans is that the lumps are classic teratoma’s. They do not appear to be malignant, nor are they deeply imbedded into the surrounding tissue. First pass review indicates that this is the best of all possible outcomes. The next step is getting an estimate of the cost of the hospital and figuring out a way to get passports visas and associated funding.
As mentioned before, we are in the process of teaching a new wave of individuals. John Charles is a great missionary and invited three new friends to come and listen to a discussion from the missionaries. Sidie, Kekula and other woman (she had to leave before the lesson was over) came and were taught. In addition, Adama and Hawa are both progressing towards baptism.
We also taught Sahr Lahai’s friend Emmanuel and also taught Sahr’s son-in-law Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a Muslim, but the spirit tells me that he is feeling something special when we teach him. Both of the missionaries had gone to teach Joyce, and so John Charles and I had gone to see Sahr to work on family history with him. He had left his pedigree chart with his brother so he did not have it. Instead of leaving, we asked about Emmanuel and Sahr sent his son Daniel to go find him. So there we were. I was trying to teach a discussion about prophets and John was translating into Krio and some Mende. We were a fine companionship!
When we met back up with the zone leaders we drove to the Kanu family home. Joseph and Sarah were not there so we were going to leave, but just as we turned to go, Joseph arrived. He is by far the most engaged in the discussions, so we sat down and taught him and his mother Mary. Joseph is a smart kid and he gets it and really seems to be drawn to the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We ended a bit earlier than usual, but still a wonderful day in Tongo.
While I was in Tongo, LaDawn was at home working on scanning all of the documents from the Simbeck Branch gospel literacy Sunday School lesson. By scanning these and sending the information to Melissa, the gospel literacy team is able to evaluate the percentage of “learners” in the branches where it rolls out. This helps to further cement the case for action and makes the need for gospel literacy obvious. LaDawn also spent time working on some questions for the IDA YSA activity on Saturday. We had received a phone call from the branch president earlier in the week requesting that we come up with “quiz” questions from the Book of Mosiah for the YSA answer in a competitive forum. She had come up with about half of the questions so when I got home and early on Saturday, I worked on the other half.
Saturday was cleaning day, meaning we had the morning to work on things here at home. It was welcomed as President Clawson had asked us to give him some feedback on the maintenance of the buildings here in Kenema. We did some research, spoke to several branch presidents and provided the requested feedback. We are trying to raise the standard of the buildings here. Native Sierra Leoneans are so used to living in substandard conditions due to the low-income level, so when a sink or a toilet stops to work it means little to them. As these houses of worship represent the Church, they need to reflect the Lord’s standard of cleanliness and repair. More work to do here, but it’s a start
Shortly after noon, we left the apartment and met the Hangha Road elders at their apartment and then drove together over to Abass Lansana’s home.
Abass and his brother are the only members of the Church in his family. He has been enthusiastic about doing some family history and so the Elders gave him a pedigree chart. On Saturday, we took our computers and MIFI over and had Elder Rydjeski and Elder Edun work with him to get the information into FamilySearch.org. They did a fine job. We had to work a bit on the dates and the website gave us some trouble, but overall we had a great visit and accomplished that which we came for. Abass’s mom is Muslim and his dad has passed away. His mom had a whole sackfull of family history documents (more to do!). His mom was delightful in helping to sort out the dates and seemed to enjoy the fact that we were working on her family and interested in her parents and grandparents. Overall, Abass submitted 7 names to the temple comprising 30 temple ordinances. He also uploaded two photos as Memories. He was elated as you can see in the picture through his smile.
From there we went to the District Center for the IDA Young Single Adult (YSA) activity. We were there about 3:45 pm and were the first ones to arrive. It was 5:15 pm before the activity got started. Fortunately, Elder Dube had a pedigree chart from Gabriel Kamara, one of the YSA in the branch, that needed to be input into FamilySearch.
Since we were waiting anyway and we still had the computers, we pulled them out and Elder Allen and Elder Dube worked with Gabriel to input the names. In the short time that we had before the activity started (about 45 minutes), Elder Allen and Elder Dube were able to input all of his names and get them sent to the Family History elders to send to the network of returned missionaries from Sierra Leone to have the work done in temples around the world. In total, they submitted 6 more names and 27 temple ordinances. We were so happy to be able to use this “delay time” productively!
The YSA activity was a lot of fun. There were two teams, Team Nephi and Team Mosiah. Each team would pull a slip of paper out of a can and we would read the question. If they couldn’t answer it, we would go to the other team to see if they could answer it. If neither team had the answer, we would ask individuals in the audience. There were 25 YSA in total.
President Samai, the branch president, was also in attendance. We left at 5:45 pm and turned it over to the zone leaders to finish as we had a 6 pm appointment with Eku Scotland. We later heard that Team Mosiah was able to pull out the win!
We met with Eku for a little over an hour. The topics in our discussion were from the missionary pamphlet “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” and focused primarily on two items. The Holy Ghost and the Sacrament. In his faith, there is no confirmation ordinance. As we spoke, LaDawn found several scriptures where it refers to the Holy Ghost being conferred by the laying on of hands. I think he was both surprised and excited at the prospect of this new information. The second topic of the sacrament was something we had discussed before. In his faith they only pass it once a year and then no one partakes of it because they believe it means that that person thinks they are perfect. He loves the idea of being able to partake of the sacrament each week and the idea of renewing covenants felt right to him. We briefly discussed polygamy and read and discussed the scriptures in Jacob 2: 27-30. We also discussed blood transfusions as he made reference to a scripture that we now believe is in Leviticus 17:10-11. This is a topic I believe we need to discuss further as his mind is not yet settled about it. There was such a wonderful spirit as we talked. His 10 year old son Able stayed the entire time. He told his dad that he wanted to read the pamphlet that we were discussing. He is a spiritually sensitive young man and to us is very impressive. We continue to love and appreciate this good man and his family.
On Sunday morning we attended the Dauda Town Branch as we were hoping to visit the gospel literacy class. As it turned out, none of the learners were there so we attended a very good gospel doctrine class taught by the branch president’s wife, Isata Aruna. The topic was the second coming of Jesus Christ. I love the maturity of this branch and their understanding of the principles of the gospel. I also appreciated the questions that were asked in an effort to engender more discussion. It was surely one of the best we have attended. Blessing Kamara, one of the gospel literacy instructors, indicated that she has been teaching 3 people in her compound how to read and write during the week. This was exciting to hear as we believe that gospel literacy needs to be taught and learned in the home as well as at church. We expect to visit her “class” in the coming days.
At the request of President Cobinah, after church we drove to the Simbeck Branch and picked up Emmanuel Yambasu and then to Hangha Road Branch to pick up Favour Tucker. Both Br. Yambasu and Sister Tucker were sustained on Sunday as District Gospel Literacy Specialists. We took them to the district center where President Cobinah set them apart and we then gave them a brief introduction to their calling. With Sister Bingham, the General Relief Society President planning to be here this week, the timing of their calls could not be better. They will participate in a full implementation with the Kpayama Branch and have a ringside seat to interact and learn from Sister Bingham.
Sunday evening Melissa Hawkley and Cason Curriden arrived to make final preparations for Sister Bingham’s visit later in the week. It will be a busy and rewarding week while she is here. What a blessing for the Saints to have her and her husband here in Kenema. Because of where Kenema is relative to the Mission Home, it is extremely rare to get a general authority or general auxiliary officer of the church directly in Kenema. We are grateful for Sister Bingham’s interest in the literacy program and her decision, influenced by Melissa, to learn more about it in Kenema. Looking forward to a wonderful week!
The Ebola virus spread quickly and at times destroyed entire families. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading quickly as well, but the result is stronger families and a more loyal, honorable and committed citizenry. The power of darkness as evidenced by Ebola is in sharp contrast to the bright light of the gospel. This country has experienced the darkness of war and Ebola and are now experiencing the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For many, it is easy to recognize the light and many desire to follow it and possess a portion of it in their own lives. We are grateful to be part of the Lord’s army bringing this new hope to Sierra Leone as we work hand in hand with members, leaders and missionaries.