As life in Sierra Leone grinds to a halt as a result of a government lock down, the co-founder of a Hampshire based charity which is delivering aid to the Ebola ravaged country has criticised western governments for failing to do enough to combat the spread of the disease.
Philip Dean from Swanmore has told Eastleigh News how the charity he helped found, the St George Foundation, is continuing to feed and look after homeless children through the crisis even though many other charities have scaled back operations due to the threat of infection to staff.
The Sierra Leone government has shut the country down for three days (starting Friday 19 September) in an attempt to contain the deadly virus but this has left homeless children unable to obtain food.
Some of these street children have lost parents in the Ebola outbreak and as the children of victims they also suffer social discrimination as well as physical hardship
Many western aid organizations have pulled their foreign staff out of the area but the St. George Foundation, whose head office is in Chandler’s Ford, is still working in the capital Freetown as the operation is run by local Sierra Leonese.
Foundation charity workers will be distributing food in specially sealed bags to prevent spread of infection
The Sierra Leone government has donated rice while the St.Georges Foundation has chipped in with £800 to pay for other foodstuffs and distribution costs.
There is a very favourable exchange rate and Philip Dean says they should be able to sustain more than 500 children thorughout the three-day lock down.
But this additional feeding programme has put a strain on the charities finances as it is a departure from it’s usual work of rescuing, caring for and educating street children.
The charity first started in 2004 when Philip Dean was visiting the country and was shocked to see the number of very young children begging for food.
At the time there were 3,000 street children in Freetown many of them orphaned by the vicious civil war.
Dean, along with a local volunteer, started a feeding program for 35 children funded by money from an inheritance, but as the number of children being supported increased more help came from Swanmore parishioners.
The foundation moved from just providing food to providing shelter as well as getting children back into school and reuniting them with their families
Staff in Freetown are currently not in immediate danger as they are some distance away from the affected areas but there is still a risk that the disease might get into the general population of the capital.
Dean said he was concerned about the staff but added that infection could be avoided by simple hygiene like hand washing.
At the moment, the children that the foundation has in residential care are in quarantine and are not going to school but Dean said “the problem is we don’t know how long this is going on for.”
He added he didn’t think that the three-day lock down would work and what was needed was a vaccine, but he feared this was some time away.
Mr. Dean also said he was not impressed with the response of western governments to the crisis – in particular the UK – whom he said was providing a clinic that would only care for 18 people while the USA was sending thousands of people and erecting field hospitals.
“I don’t see that we are doing enough on the ground”
You can donate to the St George Foundation here