Category Archives: Sierra Leone

Learning About Africa: Coping with Ebola in Kenema

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While Ebola seems to be off the  New York Times front page, the articles are still there.  “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)

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Learning About Africa: The Realness of Ebola in Sierra Leone

This blog is a platform I normally reserve for the important issue of fashion in Sierra Leone, but this week, I’m struggling to find a fashion angle. Unless you’ve been living on mars, you will know that West Africa is suffering the worst ever outbreak of the world’s most deadly disease – Ebola. I traveled to Kenema district last week for an assignment to write about the outbreak. I live in Freetown and before leaving, the epidemic hadn’t really kicked off here. ‘EBOLA!’ (said with a loud voice and chuckle) was something that was happening in villages, places that didn’t affect the urban folk of Sierra Leone’s capital. I knew Kenema was a district suffering huge case numbers, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and heard in one of Sierra Leone’s most brutally affected areas.

From Human Tales of Ebola.

And here is a  New York Times video from one of the villages most affected.

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Learning About Africa: Ebola

Yet again Africa is in the news as the other, as a place of horror and misery.  So just a few reminders:

Ebola is not throughout Africa. You don’t need to worry when coming into contact with someone from the continent or someone who has been there recently. Africa is a big continent and Ebola is not everywhere.  In fact…

Ebola is currently in three West African countries:  Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But…

Ebola is not an air-borne illness. You will not contract it by being in the same plane or auditorium or building as someone who has it or has come from one of the countries where it is prevalent. In fact…

you would need to be directly exposed to fluids from someone with the illness to be exposed. And that means that it is in the affected areas, in direct contact with those who have the illness, that you would be most at risk.  And that is just not true for those of us living in the United States. So stop worrying about getting it here. Instead worry…

that those in the affected areas do not have the basic health care we in the United States take for granted. And so while there is indeed not a cure for Ebola,…

with the sort of hospital care we in the US take for granted, treating the disease in early states, many who are dying would be saved.  But…

in the affected areas that sort of care is rare.

To learn more please read:

Stop Worrying About Ebola (And Start Worrying About What it Means)

As WHO Warns Ebola Death Toll is Underestimated, How Should Global Community Handle Dire Crisis?

 

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Learning About Africa: Congratulations to Joseph Opala

 PRESS RELEASE

Historian Professor Joseph Opala receives
Sierra Leonean Passport

Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States of America H.E. Bockari Kortu Stevens today presented Americo/ Sierra Leonean historian, Professor Joseph Opala with his Sierra Leonean passport. The impressive ceremony took place at the conference room of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington D.C.

On 20th May 2013, Professor Opala was sworn in as a Sierra Leonean citizen by H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma. This was in recognition of his role in documenting the historical link between the Gullah people in the United States of America and Sierra Leone, and for his outstanding contribution in preserving Sierra Leone slave castle of ‘Bunce Island’ as a heritage site . The esteemed historian was also awarded Sierra Leone’s Order of the Rokel by President Koroma in 2012.

Welcoming the recipient, Ambassador Stevens narrated the excellent historical work and research conducted on the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone by Professor Opala thereby drawing significant interest in the subject, particularly the direct historical connection between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone. The Ambassador congratulated Professor Opala on his numerous achievements and hoped that he would use his Sierra Leone citizenship to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for that country.

Responding, Professor Opala thanked Ambassador Stevens for taking the time off his busy schedule to present him with his new Sierra Leone passport. He noted that he was very proud to carry the Sierra Leonean passport and wished his Sierra Leonean wife, Fatmata, was there to witness the epoch occasion. He thanked the members of the Bunce Island Coalition and the Friends of Sierra Leone for honoring him with their presence.

Professor Opala was accompanied by a fifteen member delegation drawn from colleagues, family and close friends; some of whom came from as far away as Oklahoma City, Atlanta and New York. Before concluding, he presented the Ambassador with gifts and historical artifacts for display at the Embassy.

EMBASSY OF SIERRA LEONE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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A Remarkable Young Inventor

I just heard about Kelvin Doe, a 15 year-old Sierra Leonean who is featured in the following video, part of an intriguing series about prodigies.

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Learning About Africa: Sierra Leone Joining the Conversation

Last summer while in Sierra Leone I discovered firsthand the difficulties of connecting to the Internet when the only option was via satellite. I often sat fruitlessly watching the slow crawl of a site attempting to link up and it made me become more realistic about setting up relationships with schools in Sierra Leone using the Internet, knowing how hard it would be from their end. It also made me admire all the more the Peace Corps Volunteers who were blogging, say Bryan Meeker (whose latest post “What Makes a Volunteer” is incredibly moving).

So how wonderful to learn that today Sierra Leone is getting its first fibre optic cable that will make an enormous difference in the speed, reliability, and range of its Internet connections. The details are in this Reuters article:

Sierra Leone will secure its first fibre optic connection to the outside world on Monday with the arrival of theAfrica Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable in the capital Freetown.

Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, is part of a dwindling group of countries still wholly reliant on highly expensive satellite bandwidthfor internet connections.

Numerous studies have identified cheap and fast Internet as a factor that can boost a country’s economic growth.

“The vessel that carries the fiber optic cable is currently within the shores of Sierra Leone,” Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Information said in a statement.

It added the vessel would dock and lay the cable later on Monday at a landing station by Lumley Beach in western Freetown.

When complete, the 17,000-km (11,000-mile) ACE cable will run from France to South Africa, connecting 23 countries. The cable was launched by France Telecom as part of a consortium with telecom operators in participating countries.

Sierra Leone, along with neighbouring Liberia, missed out on previous fibre optic cables laid down the West African coast, such as SAT-3.

“At that time we had a civil war, we didn’t have the opportunity to articulate the arrangement to have a landing station here,” said Senesie Kallon, deputy director general of Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunications Commission.

At present, Internet access in Sierra Leone is currently slow or expensive, and often both.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, the country as a whole has just 155 Megabits of bandwidth, less than would serve a small American or European town.

The World Bank estimates that bandwidth in Sierra Leone costs 10 times the level in East Africa and 25 times the U.S. price. Barely one percent of the 5.4 million population have access to Internet services.

The World Bank is providing $30 million to fund the connection of Sierra Leone to the cable offshore.

“There was an opportunity to connect Sierra Leone to ACE in 2011 and if the country were to miss that it wasn’t clear there’d be further opportunities,” said Vijay Pillai, the bank’s country manager in Freetown.

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Happy 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps

Last week-end, in D.C., there were all sorts of celebrations for Peace Corps‘ 50th anniversary. Yes, it was 50 years ago that this organization began. As one of thousands who served, I can attest to its continuing importance. Especially today when so many are able to travel to remote parts of the world and also engage virtually, I feel Peace Corps more than ever affirms the importance of long-term engagement and commitment to a people and a place.


Sierra Leone was one of the first countries Peace Corps went to and I’ve gotten to know several who were in those early groups. It was sad, but understandable when they had to pull out for safety’s sake in the early 90s and all the more heartening that they are now back.

My return Sierra Leone last summer was incredible for many reasons, one of them the opportunity to visit with the current PCVs in country — there are two groups now, those who came in 2010 (the first group in fifteen years some of whom are in the panel above) and a second cohort that started this summer. I’d already been following some of the first group’s blogs (love this one especially) and it was great to meet them in person. Their enthusiasm, commitment, and tenacity was exhilarating to observe.  It was impossible for us returnees not to see ourselves in these young people, 35 years before.

Three fantastic Salone PCVs (one, er, from a long time ago)

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps. May you have many, many more!

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