Ms. Finda Koroma, Lawyer and Social Entrepreneur
A Coalition of Women’s Civil Society Organisations held a solemn Solar Light Vigil and March in a salute to Health Care Workers who had succumbed to the Ebola Virus Disease during its recent outbreak in Sierra Leone on 6 November 2015, the eve of the countdown to Sierra Leone being declared free from Ebola transmissions. Women from all walks of life and civil society organisations headed by women with a focus on various aspects on development donned yellow head bands, ribbons and white T-shirts with the wording ‘Zero Ebola’ written across the map of Sierra Leone on the front and ‘Honouring Health Care Worker Heroes’ at the back. Young and old, men and women, the youth and the disabled, members of different political parties, soldiers and civilians processed along the streets of Freetown from the East end and the West end towards the iconic ‘Cotton Tree’ that is rooted at the heart of Freetown, the capital city.
Amidst a serene and moving atmosphere, a roll call of all the fallen health care workers was pronounced to the accompaniment of somber songs of praise rendered by the Republic of Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces band. Two posthumous awards were given out to the health care workers – these awards came with heartfelt citations that paid heartfelt tribute to the ultimate sacrifice they made for the people of Sierra Leone to be safe. Against the backdrop of this emotionally charged event, citations in other recognition awards were read out honouring the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the National Ebola Response Centre, the InterAgency Ebola Coordination, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, the Independent Radio Network, BBC Media Action, BBC World Service, Royal Air Morocco and Brussels Airlines and the National Council of Paramount Chiefs.
Testimonies were given by three women, Victoria Yelia from Kissi Teng Chiefdom, Kailahun District, the first person discharged from an Ebola Treatment Centre and Ma Yelie Turay from Tonko Limba Chiefdom, Kambia District, the last person discharged from an Ebola Treatment Centre and Ms. Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who contracted the virus while caring for sick patients. This was a stark reminder that women were disproportionately affected by the Ebola Virus Disease in Sierra Leone, according to a report published by UN Women and Oxfam, Great Britain in December, 2014.
The objective of the Solar Light Vigil and March was to remind the people of Sierra Leone and especially the government, of the supreme and selfless sacrifice health care workers made in the line of duty during the Ebola outbreak. It is also served as a reminder to the government that these brave health care workers whom are true heroes and patriots must never be forgotten. Some women’s groups are planning to establish an Education Trust Fund for the children of fallen health care workers. Other activities that are planned include Christmas hampers for distribution to health care workers and military personnel who were working on the frontline in the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease, families of fallen health care workers and Ebola survivors.
Women’s groups in Sierra Leone have always spoken on out on pertinent national issues. It was the women of Sierra Leone who played a pivotal role during the Bintumani negotiations that ushered in ‘Elections before peace’ that brought the end to military rule in 2002. Women’s groups continue to speak out on issues of democracy, governance and sexual and gender based violence.
The Solar Light Vigil and March was sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) which donated 250 solar lights and bottled water, Africell, one of the leading mobile phone companies which provided the stage, the lighting system, the public address systems and the large posters whilst UNICEF and the National Ebola Response Centre donated 1,000 T-shirts. Water was also donated by the Mano River Union Secretariat, Christian Aid, ActionAid, Caritas and Focus 1,000 donated some T-shirts.