Sierra Leone (MNN) — This week, the World Health Organization declared the end of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
Since Sierra Leone recorded the first Ebola case on 24 May 2014, a total number of 8,704 people were infected, and 3,589 have died.
When you look at the toll the crisis took in two other neighboring countries, says Wayne Pederson of Reach Beyond, it’s devastating. “As you can imagine, with 11,000 deaths, there are many children that have been left behind in orphanages or to fend for themselves. Part of the ongoing work is to go into places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and even in Guinea Bissau, and helping the orphans in providing food, water, and medical care.”
So while this declaration marks the beginning of a new observation phase (until 5 February 2016), it’s also the beginning of a different crisis. The Ebola outbreak decimated families, the health system, the economy, and social structures. Reach Beyond’s ministry partner, the Believers Broadcasting Network (BBN), remains active in their response. ”Our radio partners have an ongoing education program over the radio on how to avoid and contain crises like Ebola, but other diseases as well, such as malaria.” But, everyone needs to recover and heal, observes Pederson. “Obviously, family members have died, church members have died, and people are struggling with grief. Our counseling center, with about 40 counselors that we’ve trained, are helping people deal with the grief.”
Just because the WHO has made a declaration doesn’t mean that emergent needs are fulfilled. BBN is still providing life-sustaining food and supplies to families living in the most remote areas affected by Ebola. Reach Beyond’s “Bucket Brigade” campaign helped keep thousands alive. Each bucket held enough food and supplies to sustain a family of five living in isolation for up to four weeks. In addition to food, the large buckets contain soap, gloves, bleach, and other vital supplies. They arrived just in time in Sierra Leone, where the economy contracted 30% because of Ebola.
Now, there is a secondary crisis: the orphans. According to UNICEF, there are more than 3,700 orphaned children in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone who have lost one or both parents to the disease. Many living with neighbors who serve as caregivers in quarantined communities are also grateful beneficiaries of the Bucket Brigade outreach.
Although Reach Beyond is not a family service or orphan outreach group, they did find ways to help. They’re providing ongoing medical care through mobile medical teams. However, says Pederson, they didn’t stop there. “For it to be sustainable, for it to have an ongoing spiritual impact, we can’t just come in with a team for a week or two and then just leave. There’s no sustainability to it, so we always work with a local church or a local partner.” In most cases, Reach Beyond works alongside a church. In Sierra Leone’s case, it is the BBN. Their ultimate goal, he adds, is to introduce people to Jesus as their Savior. “That’s where the Voice and Hands [project] comes in: the Hands, providing medical care and education, but [also] the Voice, as we verbally share the love of Christ.”
Celebration and relief greeted this week’s WHO announcement. Moving forward to rebuild devastated nations will take everyone pitching in. Pederson says, “Obviously, people can pray, but also they can give to the Voice and Hands project so when another crisis comes up, we can go in and work with local partners to demonstrate and declare the love of Christ.”