Months ago, we anticipated that by the end of year 2014, the number of youth gainfully employed by AYM in Sierra Leone will be around 25. Those anticipations are already in doubt due to two factors: the Sierra Leone Ebola epidemic and theft at the center.
Sierra Leone is back in the news again – for the wrong reasons. EBOLA! The recent Ebola epidemic that started in Guinea and Liberia finally engulfed Sierra Leone, except for Koinadugu District. Ebola is a contagious disease spread through contact. Two of the largest Districts in the country – Kailahun and Kenema – have been placed under emergency quarantine. Gatherings of all sorts are strongly opposed and sometimes out rightly discouraged.
The friendly culture of hand-shaking and hugging is finally coming to an end in Sierra Leone and major economic challenges are on the rise.
According to recent World Health projections, this Ebola crisis is not going away.
There have been 848 cases of Ebola and 518 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia since the beginning of the outbreak. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated more than 70 patients with symptoms resembling those of Ebola in the Kailahun treatment center in eastern Sierra Leone over the past two weeks (WHO)
Major airlines have cancelled their Sierra Leone routes with 219 out of 590 flights no longer running. Sierra Leone is in a bind. Thirteen years ago, we ended an eleven year gruesome civil war. Now we are fighting to end an Ebola epidemic which realities are reflecting wartime exigencies, the cultural and economic impacts notwithstanding.
Sierra Leone has 2.2 doctors for every 100,000 people (2012 figures) far behind the UK (279). (WHO)
Resources in Sierra Leone are drained by malaria treatment. There were some 1.5 million confirmed and probable cases in 2012, from an overall population of about 6 million . (WHO)
Recently, the Mattru Jong police dispersed a crowd at the AYM Social Enterprise and Business Incubator Center. The Center is the flagship program of the AYM in Sierra Leone. Its purpose is to harness the local talents of Jong Chiefdom, Bonthe District and develop businesses and services. These developments will enhance the social progress of the community by creating jobs to provide community youths with employment. The vision of the center is aligned with the meteoric expansion of Mattru Jong to ensure that the foundations of amenities for an emergent future city are undertaken by locals and available in progressive increments with ideas support from around the world. One of our sources of revenue – the Cinema hall – has been closed. This is a nation-wide emergency law for all cinema halls to close and all businesses providing critical services must have hand-washing stations. It is the right thing to do under these circumstances.
The AYM Social Enterprise and Business Incubator Center is also the only place in the entire Bonthe District with 24/7 uninterrupted electricity. The center provides cell phone, vehicle and motorcycle battery charging services to the community along with the sales of continuous cold drinks. By allowing the youth to run the center and train in simple business management, we hope to roll out individuals capable of creating businesses in an ever expanding community.
The Ebola crisis is a challenge to our not-for-profit business model. Before the crisis, the center was always alive until about 3 A.M. Now we close business at 11 P.M. each day. The revenue from the Cinema hall has stopped. The number of people – about 150 – 200 – that gather every night at the center has dwindled. We have seen a remarkable dwindling of revenue as well.
AYM Chief Operating Officer, Dennis Glover was in Sierra Leone to address some administrative issues until the Ebola emergency peaked. He immediately began a sensitization campaign based on a press release from the American Embassy among the workers, volunteers and customers to the center. He ensured everyone coming to the center had to wash their hands with chlorine and all handshaking and hugging were immediately outlawed. The continual escalation of the crisis and the withdrawal of the Peace Corp Volunteers convinced Dennis he had to leave too. On August 12, Dennis left Mattru Jong in the afternoon to arrive in Bo before 7 PM. His flight to Brussels was schedule for August 13th.
On August 13th, Dennis called around 3 A.M. EST from Sierra Leone to inform me that he has received a call from Mattru Jong and the news was not good. According to the report, thieves broke a window pane and had carted away more than 20 customer cell phones. The number of stolen cell phones is now 21. To date, we still do not know who the thieves are. Even though the case is with the police, and suspicions continue swirling around some key team members that have been replaced in administrative restructuring, there are no concrete leads.
AYM is in a bind. Revenue is down due to Ebola and liability for 21 stolen phones now hangs over the organization’s head. Until proven, we still have salaries to pay. We need a good Samaritan.