We have, understandably, been receiving requests from Clubs asking what we can do to give assistance to areas affected by this appalling disease. To date there has been little guidance from RI (and thence
RIBI) as it is such a huge issue and they have been waiting to see what we can most effectively do.
I recently attended the RIBI Mid-Year Review for International Chairs and Ebola was high on the agenda. We had input from the RIBI senior International Committee members, fellow District Chairs and from a member of the Freetown Rotary Club in Sierra Leone. The consensus of opinion is that containment, treatment and quarantine is best left to the governments of those countries with coordinated assistance from other nations. Military and medical help provided by the UK, France, Canada etc is indeed much appreciated and of great help.
We heard harrowing stories from our fellow Rotarian who, until recently, had been in Freetown and whose Club had been providing food for the street children AND the ever increasing numbers of orphans being left to fend for themselves as family members are quarantined or succumb to the disease. He estimated that there were 1400 Ebola orphans in the Freetown area alone last month. This number can only increase exponentially as the death toll rises. They anticipate that there will be thousands of children without food, shelter, education etc when the crisis is eventually over.
There have been attempts to call curfews for days at a time - to keep families contained in their districts and prevent travel. However, this often breaks down as people need to leave home to source food and water for their families. The logistics involved in keeping people supplied while they stay at home is difficult. Crops may go unharvested, fields not replanted, farmers unable to get food supplies into town as easily as they did. So basic food supplies will become a real issue.
So, at present, there IS no direct advice from RI as to what we can offer. However, it is apparent that we could have a massive role to play in the "recovery" phase. There will be homes to build for orphans, provision for their health and care. Schools to re-establish AND - crucially - health workers to train and clinics to build as these countries have lost thousands of medical staff to Ebola and existing facilities are likely to be erased after the crisis.
As Clubs we can prepare to help when we find out what projects we can support but, in the interim, there are many agencies that we could support that are already on the ground and working with victims.
Mary's Meals are feeding people in Liberia (where they already have an established infrastructure). By delivering food to outlying communities they manage to keep people in their villages away from possible contact with the disease.
UNICEF are delivering Family Protection Kits (gloves, masks, soaps, chlorine etc) in all 3 affected countries and have an anonymous donor who is currently matching 1 for 1 any donation.
The DEC is asking for funds for hygiene supplies. 25 for Cleaning Kits, 50 for protective Clothing for 3 health workers, 100 for community training to help keep families safe.
Funds to our own Foundation will be of value too. Housing and caring for orphans of Ebola, rebuilding health facilities and training up medical staff will be much needed after the event. Having funds "in the kitty" in preparation means we can react quickly when our input is most needed.
Anne Wright - International Chair