The West African Ebola outbreak that took the World by surprise may have been over, going on two years now, but those the virus infected and survived are still struggling with many health and socio-economic challenges. The disease may no longer be present in the region, but affected persons and communities are yet to get over the nightmare and move on with life. The World may no longer view Ebola as imminent threat to life, but those who lost their loved ones are still mourning and psychologically traumatized in the aftermath. From our fieldwork experience with Ebola survivors for more than two years, we can attest with confidence that we are far from meeting the needs of Ebola survivors. Some of their pressing needs include quality health care on an ongoing basis, including mental health, food, livelihoods—economic opportunities, and full community integration.
In 2014, like many other humanitarian organizations, Tzu Chi Foundation responded to help the people of Sierra Leone when Ebola threatened their livelihoods and lives. The founder of the organization, Dharma Master Cheng Yen with her wisdom and humanitarian spirit, mobilized her volunteers to coordinate relief support for Sierra Leone in the form of multi-functional beds, blankets, food supplies, and medical supplies. Tzu Chi sent more relief support to Sierra Leone with love throughout the years 2015 and 2016. Additional relief included latex gloves, stethoscopes, new clothes, new shoes, and 200 tons of rice.
Tzu Chi volunteers successfully distributed all donations across Sierra Leone directly into the hands of Ebola survivors, with strong support from our local partners Healey International Relief Foundation, Caritas Freetown, and Lanyi Foundation. The Tzu Chi Sierra Leone partnership is proud of being the first and only NGO partnership to reach all Ebola survivors in every corner of Sierra Leone. Additional partners for the Tzu Chi 2016 relief distributions were the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs and the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors—a nonprofit organization established by Ebola survivors to advocate the needs of Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone. A total of 3,488 Ebola survivors benefited from Tzu Chi relief.
From our nationwide experience, Ebola survivors need committed and consistent support from all angles, including psychosocial support, hunger prevention, food security, quality health care, and sustainable enterprise development initiatives. Understanding the challenges with recovery when hungry, Master Cheng Yen committed in early 2017 to support Sierra Leone Ebola survivors and other vulnerable persons with 300 tons of rice and medical supplies. The consignments of food support will ship in three batches of five containers each, with distributions beginning June and ending December 2017. Healey International Relief Foundation, Caritas Freetown, and Lanyi Foundation have again agreed to be part of the partnership and continue providing support to the success of Tzu Chi projects in Sierra Leone. The food supplies will primarily benefit Ebola survivors, Ebola orphans, children with developmental disabilities, amputees and war wounded, and other Ebola affected persons.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has also committed to continue its support to Sierra Leone health facilities. In 2015 and 2016, a good number of government, private, and religious-funded clinics and hospitals benefited from various supports, including seven of the most utilized government hospitals: Connaught Hospital, PCMH Hospital, Wilberforce Military Hospital, Bo Government Hospital, Kambia Government Hospital, Kenema Government Hospital, and Port Loko Government Hospital. To improve the Sierra Leone health sector, Tzu Chi Foundation will continue providing medical equipment in the form of hospital beds and consumables. A consignment of hospital beds will arrive in Sierra Leone before the end of the raining season. This renewed commitment to the people of Sierra Leone demonstrates Tzu Chi’s culture of selfless service to humanity with compassion and relief.
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