West African churches committed to assisting communities post-Ebola

2 October 2015

The World Health Organization declared Liberia free of Ebola on 3 September and people are continuing awareness raising and surveillance for the following 90 days to ensure rapid response and containment of new cases, the Most Revd Jonathan Bau-Bau Bonaparte Hart, Archbishop for the internal province of West Africa and Bishop of Liberia, told the Alliance in a recent phone call.

In Guinea, Ebola is at a very low level, with two confirmed cases in the week to 20 September, while Sierra Leone had no new confirmed cases during this time period, according to a WHO report from 23 September. Robust surveillance measures are essential to ensure rapid detection of any re-introduction or re-emergence, the global agency underlined.

“There are currently six cases and we pray that soon the whole country will be free of infection. We take hope from Liberia,” Bishop Thomas Wilson of the Diocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone, told the Alliance in a phone call on 10 September.

Bishop Jacques Boston said that the situation in Guinea was improving slowly but surely. “Things are going on well from [our] perspective. Markets are open now. Farming activities are carried on. People are gradually recovering from the challenges to be able to support the Church,” he noted in an email on 8 September.

In Freetown the government had lifted restrictions on trading, so that shops were open again into the evening, Bishop Thomas reported.

Back to school

Bishop Emmanuel Tucker said that life was returning to more normal rhythms as well in the Diocese of Bo in Sierra Leone. A clear sign of this is the reopening of schools and colleges, which he said had begun the second semester for the academic year 2014-2015.

The other West African church leaders reported similar developments in their respective dioceses. Schools have reopened in the Diocese of Freetown. In Liberia a new school term was to start in mid-September, following an Ebola awareness campaign and special instruction for staff, including equipping schools with hand washing stations with buckets, soap and chlorine. And schools were going to reopen for the school year in Guinea on 3 October.

Prevention continues

People were maintaining vigilance to prevent new cases of the virus, the bishops noted.

“Every Church is aware it is in the midst of the deadly disease [and] how to respond. All was in place when the second outbreak happened [in June] and it was contained,” said Archbishop Jonathon. He noted that people were still observing prevention measures, washing their hands as they arrived at church or the workplace.

Bishop Jacques agreed. “The [prevention] messaging is widely accepted and used now.” He said the Church continued its prevention messaging efforts.

Flooding and food insecurity

Returning to daily life is a struggle, however, and the rainy season has made matters worse.

People in Liberia were not able to farm earlier in the year and thus had no reserves. With the onset of the rainy season, there is a shortage of food in the rural areas, according to Archbishop Jonathon, and due to poor road conditions there is little food in the towns.

Bishop Thomas noted similar conditions in the Diocese of Freetown. “The bridge between the east and south of the country can’t be crossed at the moment. This is limiting access to markets. The price of imported rice is very high and you can’t get local rice.” He added that little farming or gardening was being done.

“People are relying on the church and relatives to survive. This is a challenge for a church with no funds,” Archbishop Jonathon said.

Scarce resources

All agreed that the greatest challenge facing the churches is the lack of financial resources to minister to the community.

“Our main problems currently are the struggles to meet the back log payment of the clergy, diocesan workers and teachers,” Bishop Emmanuel admitted.

Support from partners in the USA had enabled the diocese to provide some food, school materials and various non-food items but the church was still searching for funds to assist members with rice, cassava, groundnuts and farming implements, he said.

“People are still struggling,” Bishop Thomas said. Money is lacking for school uniforms and books, particularly for those pupils who have lost parents or guardians. “The school [simply] cannot afford to pay for all victims of Ebola,” he said. “People are not coming to church, [which] affects the giving.”

Archbishop Jonathon noted that some children couldn’t resume their schooling due to the difficult situation. However, the Church in Liberia was committed to reach out to the most vulnerable, including Ebola survivors and orphans, and, despite its lack of funds, was trying to give support for those struggling with fees, he said.

“We will continue to make the Church’s presence felt in the community, particularly those affected by Ebola,” Archbishop Jonathon said.

The churches in West Africa are remaining steadfast in the face of these difficulties and are grateful for the continued support and prayers of the rest of the Anglican Communion.

“In [the Diocese of] Bo, we remain grateful to God for what he is doing for us and around us. Thank you for your untiring prayer [and] all other support,” Bishop Emmanuel said.


Photo credit: Christian Aid. Community information campaign on Ebola in Sierra Leone.