Latest Healer Forum at Fogbo

The latest round of the Ebola awareness training that CODEP and Build on Books are organising took place in Fogbo on Friday 7 November 2014. Fogbo is a coastal fishing village in the Western Area Rural District

Alison Sutherland from the UK kindly joined the Traditional Healers Forum at Fogbo as an observer. Alison is the Commonwealth Advisor to The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for the Commonwealth Secretariat.

She ended up joining in and very kindly ended up by giving a bar of soap to each the participants. Alison reported afterwards:

“Fogbo is a coastal (fishing) village, about 10 km down a rough road from Four Mile (Newton), passing through lots of villages and farmlands. Apart from a regular stream of okada bikes plying the route there were few vehicles. Four Mile is where the 1st major checkpoint after Freetown is located – everyone comes down from their vehicle and queues to have temperature taken; its quite a bustling but orderly set-up, with soldiers, police, healthworkers etc., and the ubiquitous snack and soft drink sellers have set up little stalls near by.

Over 130 people attended the training session – the community hall was full but not overcrowded. The ward councillors, ward committee members, at least 24 village heads, and traditional healers and youth leaders attended. The RSLAF (armed forces) had 2 representatives – including the marine officer responsible for patrolling the coast in that area – you know that clandestine travel by boat is quite a problem in transmitting Ebola, SL Police, district council (through its PRO) were there throughout, and of course the representatives of Waterloo Partnership and other district community leaders – incl. Mr Mansaray, Mr Sesay who are also on the district committees. The MP, Hon Claude Kamanda gave an opening address including big thanks to yourselves.

The high table contributors ‘opening remarks’ were all educational speeches, which was really good as each speaker focused on different aspects, but putting the same messages across in different ways is essential if they are to sink in —— wash your hands with soap and water; ‘ABC’ – Avoid Body Contact (and there’s also ‘APC’ ref to the ruling party – Avoid Peoples’ Compounds) ; call 117 (the health hotline) if someone showing symptoms; don’t touch dead bodies or attempt to wash / bury; don’t allow strangers / visitors into your home / village; have daily friendly checks on all houses in the village to ensure no strangers and no sick persons; and so on.

Pa Alieu Badara Mansaray impressed on them that survivors retain the virus in semen for 90 days, so unprotected sexual contact must be avoided – this gave rise to some interesting observations! – but other than that, communities should not fear survivors. The plight of children was highlighted too. Of course the role of CODEP / BOB was explained, and thanked sincerely for all you are doing. Rosetta gave a really good talk.

There has been no Ebola in that immediate area, and a lot of the people I spoke to believe that the salt water protects people. Luckily when he spoke, Hon Claude talked of washing with HOT salted water, and I reinforced the need for soap with the hot water too. I’d taken enough soap for every participant to go home with one bar of soap as a prompt to follow that message, and that turned out to be a good idea (last minute!). I was honoured that I was asked to give a brief statement, as well as the general message of support I gave examples from the Ministry of how local leaders in parts of the country have helped keep Ebola out by instituting daily household visits to every home, and by being strict on the ‘stranger reporting’ and also enforcing the byelaws against senior community members (including suspending chiefs) to show that no one is above the law.

Yemma Conteh from Waterloo then gave a talk on Ebola’s history, how it spreads, symptoms, and why proper isolated medical care is needed to give chance of survival. This issue of giving hope that there is a fair chance of survival IF you seek professional care early is really important when encouraging people to report symptoms. The SL Police Inspector did a session on the Byelaws – read them out and explained them; the district council has adopted the same byelaws as elsewhere in the country – and the PRO translated into Temne language for greater impact.

Rosetta and team are great organizers. Hot food (rice and chicken) was distributed in takeaway packs while people were seated, with water and a soft drink; all done in a way that ensures no jostling, queuing or body contact.

The local radio was there and interviewed Rosetta, a few of us and also recorded several of the sessions so the programme will be aired to a wider audience too.

I do hope I can attend future sessions, and will keep in touch with Rosetta on this.
I think your funding to bring these people together is really valuable – everyone learns something new, and the realization that Ebola is serious and it’ll only go if everyone plays by the rules is spread. Most people have heard some key messages, but they have not been accepting / adopting them.

It is also very cost effective – a meal, small transport allowance and a bar of soap is a token appreciation that they have given up a day – and are then expected to do a lot more as volunteers / good citizens in their communities – but it is appreciated. That all the speakers were very local – that helps too (apart from me who kept it short and was referred to as ‘our guest’)! I doubt if UNICEF and the like could run an event like this themselves with 3x the amount you are spending.”

Our kind thanks to Alison for taking the time to porvide such interesting and valuable feed-back. You can certainly see from the photos that the audience took a very keen attention in the words of the speakers.

The next forum takes place at Tombo on 14 November 2014.

Our thanks as always to Rosetta and her team for their hard work organising the forum and to the generous donations that made the forum possible.

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