As the number of Ebola cases and deaths rises daily in Sierra Leone, Femi Davies, a nurse and member of the diverse congregation at Central United Methodist Church in Skokie, Ill., grows more worried and concerned for family, friends and colleagues. Davies, who came to the United States in 1996, is from York, a small coastal fishing town in western Sierra Leone.
“As the days go by, the news from home gets worse,” said Davies. “It seems to be snowballing. We want to do something to help but it’s just so overwhelming.”
Davies travels back home to Sierra Leone 2-3 times a year where she has a shop and, along with her sister Dr Olabisi Claudius- Cole, runs a health clinic. However, the Ebola epidemic forced them to recently close the clinic, one of the only places where people can receive healthcare for miles.
“We had to shut down. It was too risky,” said Davies. “The government gave us no resources and protective gear. Once you have one infected patient walk in, your whole unit can become contaminated.”
The fear of contracting the disease is hampering cleaning and disinfecting efforts in areas where Ebola patients come for help said Davies. “No one wants to go in those areas where a patient has been vomiting or had diarrhea and take the chance,” she said. “It’s difficult to get even government buildings sanitized.”
Davis and other Sierra Leone members at Central UMC are organizing a fundraiser on Saturday, November 1, 2014 to purchase and send a TRU-D Robot, an $85,000 Ultraviolet light disinfecting remote machine, to help clean the contamination and stop the spread of the virus in the West African country. “A Taste of Sierra Leone – African Feast” will be held at Central UMC, 8237 N. Kenton Ave., Skokie. Drop in anytime between 5-9pm.
Dr. Tonya Schreder, Femi’s cousin-in-law and one of ten Sierra Leonean members at Central UMC, has a brother and two sisters living in Sierra Leone and her parents are currently visiting anxiously waiting to return home. “Thankfully I don’t know anyone who has Ebola,” said Schreder. “But I don’t blame them (people in Sierra Leone for being scared).”
Schreder is concerned that a lack of information and misconceptions may create stigmas against people from Sierra Leone here in the U.S. She said her 9-year-old niece, who was also visiting over the summer, couldn’t return back home to Sierra Leone because of the deadly outbreak, so they enrolled her in school here. The principal recently called saying some parents were raising concerns about her niece and the fear of Ebola.
“I assured them there is zero risk to the classmates and faculty at the school,” said Schreder who is a practicing physician. “My niece has been here long before the Ebola outbreak. She’s never even had a cold.”
Schreder says the negative headlines out of West Africa are prompting much of the anxiety and she hopes to lift up stories of the local heroes such as the healthcare workers risking their own lives to take care of the patients and women who are opening up their homes to orphans.
“In some cases whole families are dying, or both parents are dying leaving children alone,” said Schreder who hopes to hold more fundraisers at Central UMC. “Doctors also need more supplies in order to keep their clinics open. The goal is to get protective gear to those who are working on this solution.”
In memory of Schreder’s grandmother who was a teacher, the family formed a foundation, MLTS (Martha Logan Thomas Society) in 1984 to give back to the community through education and aid. Since the Ebola outbreak, the foundation, which is run by Schreder’s mother, has collected money and given it to the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone to help orphans whose parents have died from Ebola and for health care supplies.
Building on Hope
Dr. Samuel C. Kormoi, founder of Pan-African Rural Health And Social Services (PRHeSS) a 501(c)(3) and a United Methodist Global Advance based in Chicago, says they are mobilizing efforts to send medical supplies to his native rural Sierra Leone to help prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading further. Currently, PRHeSS and the Chicagoland Sierra Leonean community have secured $1.5 Million worth of much-needed drugs donated by Sagent Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
“Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Conference has confirmed the urgent need for the drugs but we are unable to ship them,”said Kormoi.“We need at least $7,000.00 to ship the required 40 feet container that will host the drugs.”
PRHeSS Ministry is also currently building the Hope Medical Clinic in Sierra Leone, which they expect to complete by the end of 2015. In addition, the Ministry helps support Hope UMC and school in Sierra Leone, which provides worship, education, nutritional food and vocational training opportunities in the community.
“I wonder why people who are just coming out of a long civil-war and are enduring poverty as well lack of food and adequate healthcare, as if it’s not bad enough for them, are now dealing with Ebola. It’s a seemingly never ending battle,” said Dr. Kormoi. “The Sierra Leone UMCConference working with the PRHeSS Ministry has relentlessly done so much, yet has so much more to do as the disease continues to spread nationwide.”
As for Femi Davies, she would like to return to Sierra Leone soon to help and be a voice for change. She fears with nowhere to turn because of the growing number of shuttered or overwhelmed clinics, people with other diseases such as malaria, hypertension and diabetes will consequently suffer.
“People are dying waiting for help,” said Davies who helped her sister offer free health screenings to 1,200 people at their clinic last April. “I saw more people with high blood pressure and malaria then I’ve ever seen. While it seems so overwhelming, I have to do something to make a difference. I can’t just sit on my hands.”
The United Methodist Church and its partners are responding to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The deadly virus has claimed lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
The church effort involves treatment, prevention, communication and public education. The response is a joint effort by West African United Methodist church leaders and regional health boards, denominational health facilities, missionaries and the denomination’s general agencies.
Through the United Methodist Communication’s groundwork in Sierra Leone and Liberia with Imagine No Malaria, technology is being used to spread the word in rural areas about Ebola with text messages. “Since The United Methodist Church can build upon our capacity developed through Imagine No Malaria educational efforts, we can make a difference in the Ebola outbreak and save lives,” said Bishop Sally Dyck.
For more information, resources and stories go to www.umc.org/ebola.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has launched an Ebola Hotline for questions and concerns. Call 1-800-889-3931 or visit ebola.illinois.gov.
For PRHeSS please go to www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission Advance #3021290 (Pan-African Rural Health & Social Services (PRHeSS) or visit http://africanhopeanddignity.org.
For Central UMC fundraiser, make checks payable to “Organizing for Sierra Leone” and send to Central UMC, 8237 N. Kenton Avenue, Skokie, IL 60076 or visit www.organizingforsierraleone.org.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has to date sent $400,000 in grants to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Donate online at www.umcor.org to the Disaster Response, International Advance #982450.