News (2006-2016) News 2016 News Happy Smiles in the Slums of Sierra Leone

Happy Smiles in the Slums of Sierra Leone

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A child nibbles on a mango as she eyes the Tzu Chi volunteers  whom she has never met before. (Photo by Huang You Bin)A child nibbles on a mango as she eyes the Tzu Chi volunteers whom she has never met before. (Photo by Huang You Bin)

Amidst the smoke of burning rubbish, a few children can be seen scavenging around for food. Both sides of the river in the slum area are untidily lined with the homes of the poor, while its residents can be seen taking apart discarded electronic goods in the narrow alleys. The river that leads directly to the sea is heavily polluted with trash and lies stagnant. This is the scene that greets the eye when one steps into the slum located in Freetown, capital city of the Republic of Sierra Leone.



In a slum in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, a heavily polluted river that leads to the sea lies stagnant. (Photo by Huang You Bin)In a slum in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, a heavily polluted river that leads to the sea lies stagnant. (Photo by Huang You Bin)
Tzu Chi volunteers respectfully hand out aid supplies with a 90-degree bow during an aid distribution. (Photo by Huang You Bin)Tzu Chi volunteers respectfully hand out aid supplies with a 90-degree bow during an aid distribution. (Photo by Huang You Bin)
Survivors of the Ebola virus receive government documentation certifying that they are now free from the virus. (Photo by Huang You Bin) Survivors of the Ebola virus receive government documentation certifying that they are now free from the virus. (Photo by Huang You Bin)

Amidst the smoke of burning rubbish, a few children can be seen scavenging around for food. Both sides of the river in the slum area are untidily lined with the homes of the poor, while its residents can be seen taking apart discarded electronic goods in the narrow alleys. The river that leads directly to the sea is heavily polluted with trash and lies stagnant.

This is the scene that greets the eye when one steps into the slum located in Freetown, capital city of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The unemployment rate here is 90%, and Kamala, a tribal headman here tells the Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States who have arrived for a site visit: “This place is mosquito and bacteria infested, and malaria outbreaks occur from time to time. We urgently need medical services.”  

Ten Days of Love and Aid
On 9 April 2016, the US headquarters of the Tzu Chi Foundation sent its volunteers, Huang You Bin and Chen Can Yang, to help out in an aid distribution in Sierra Leone. Both of them departed from Los Angeles, transiting at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in France and arrived in Sierra Leone 24 hours later. Tzu Chi’s facilitator Stephen Fomba and some members from the Catholic Caritas Foundation welcomed them at the airport. Then, a meeting was held where everyone had a discussion about the 10-day aid distribution exercise that was going to be held in the West African country.

The 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone has left the economy in shambles and similarly, the people’s purchasing power, public health, education and infrastructure are in dire straits.  The Tzu Chi team decided to focus on the same schools and orphanages which they had used as aid distribution points in 2015, and extended the reach to a few smaller neighbouring zones as well. They also visited the slums to get a better understanding of the needs of the poor.

Fomba led a team of local Tzu Chi volunteers that assisted in the distribution exercise, which included five schools, five orphanages and five small zones. In addition, a clothes and shoes distribution was held at a home for the intellectually disabled while volunteers studied the local needs and noted important details for the next phase of aid.

Aid workers from Tzu Chi’s co-partners, Caritas and the Healey Foundation, were also present throughout the exercise. Prior to the exercise, local volunteers had thoughtfully measured the recipients who were from different age groups ranging from young children to the elderly, to ensure that everyone would receive clothes and shoes that fitted.

Respect for the Suffering
During the two to three distribution exercises held daily, Fomba introduced Tzu Chi to the aid recipients and shared with them that the aid was made possible by the love of Tzu Chi members worldwide. Chen Can Yang also encouraged the recipients to give back to society in future. Local volunteers helped to unload and carry the aid materials to the distribution venue. Then, with an attitude of respect and gratitude, the volunteers gave a 90-degree bow to every recipient as they handed them the aid supplies. The ambience of every session was thus rich with the humanistic culture of Tzu Chi.

At the home for the intellectually disabled, a touching scene awaited volunteer Huang You Bin. A youth lay on the floor, his limbs twisted and malformed; a staff told Huang that the boy was already 27 years of age but had never once sat nor stood upright since his birth. Seeing the arrival of volunteers, the youth tried his best to smile as his bright eyes followed the movements of their feet. Huang’s eyes reddened involuntarily as he sighed, “It is inconceivable that such suffering exists!”

The year before, Fomba had visited an institution for visually impaired children, and this time, the volunteers were going to distribute shoes to them. Their lifeless eyes moving about, the children tried hard to identify any familiar voices. Though the recipients could not see what was in front of them, Tzu Chi volunteers still gave the familiar 90-degree bow of respect as they presented the shoes to them.

Spreading the Love that Emancipates
From 15 April 2016, Mrs Philomena Yumkella, founder of the Lanyi Educational Advancement and Development Foundation, also joined in the ranks of those involved in distribution work. Lanyi often donates to schools in Sierra Leone to help impoverished children. Yumkella accompanied Tzu Chi to Bo Town, the second largest city in the Republic, where they conducted a shoe distribution exercise at a local shelter for children of domestic abuse. Almost all of the recipients, who were orphaned as a result of the Ebola virus, had no shoes to speak of.

In Waterloo, a city in western Sierra Leone, there was a group of female Ebola survivors who were receiving government-issued certification attesting that they were free of the virus. They were all widows, and Tzu Chi volunteers had specially arranged for clothes and shoes to be distributed to them. At the small activity centre, they sat silently as they waited with their children, whom they had brought along with them.
As volunteers called out their names one by one, the recipients came forward to receive the items. Seeing the new clothing, some broke into happy smiles as they quickly tried them on. Momentarily, the gloom of waiting was gone; with each new piece of clothing, they saw fresh hope in their lives.

With their compassionate efforts, the foundations of Tzu Chi, Healey, and Caritas, and not forgetting Fomba himself, had brought much-needed relief to the suffering in Sierra Leone.

 



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