Recently the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Koroma, declared this West African nation to be Ebola Free. For those of us who live in Sierra Leone and went through the nightmare of the recent deadly epidemic which between 2014 – 2015 claimed thousands of deaths, this is wonderful news and a much needed relief.
We no longer have to wash our hands daily in chlorine! We no longer have to take daily temperature readings! We no longer have to worry about shaking someone’s hands! We are no longer routinely stopped by the police at road blocks to have our temperatures checked! We are no longer bound by curfews! We no longer have the daily worry of a potential deadly contamination!
We are truly enjoying are Ebola Free freedom. We are now free to move without road blocks, free to assemble in churches and public places, free to travel from one part of the country to the other without curfews and quarantined zones. We thank our Lord Jesus Christ for this freedom and peace of mind.
However the tragic consequences of the Ebola Epidemic linger on and are everywhere around us here in Sierra Leone:
The deadly epidemic has left thousands of children as orphans in many cases rendering them homeless.
The Ebola epidemic has economically damaged Sierra Leone making it the second poorest nation on earth with around an 80% unemployment rate. Food prices have risen. Petrol, transport and electricity prices have sharply increased and the people are facing very serious economic challenges.
The epidemic has also impacted upon the nation’s medical facilities and capabilities. Many doctors and nurses have died. Many have left. The medical infrastructure and services are presently at a depleted and weakened state.
It is only fairly recently that pupils and students have returned to school, colleges and universities after a prolonged shut down of educational institutions.
How is our Mission here in Sierra Leone meeting these serious national and regional challenges?
To begin with we have taken up the challenge of the Ebola orphans. In his epistle St. James writes: «True and pure religion before God the Father is to take care of orphans… in their suffering…» (1:27). Presently we are about to begin the construction of two modern orphanages which will cater for about 100 children. In addition to providing shelter and food, we will also provide free medical and educational services from nursery to high school and even College level. Indeed we are presently providing a hot meal six days a week to about 40 Ebola orphans (in addition to another 400 children and teachers in our school at Waterloo). We also provide all the children with imported shoes and where relevant wheelchairs.
In terms of the national unemployment problem, our Mission provides employment with good salaries and other benefits to scores sixty Sierra Leoneans. We employ school teachers, lecturers for our College, local priests to shepherd the Orthodox flock. We employ administrators, drivers, security guards, cleaners etc. In addition through our Teachers’ College and our scholarship system we train young people to become qualified teachers.
In the face of a weakened medical system where basic medical services are not available we meet this challenge in different ways. Where a member of our Mission cannot be treated here we send them abroad with all expenses paid. For example recently one of our local priests’ wife (Presbytera Elizabeth) developed cancer in her arm. Here we have no availability of chemo-therapy treatment. So our Mission send her and her husband (Rev. Alexander Kamara) to Ghana for treatment. She is now receiving chemo-therapy treatment which will be completed by December. The Mission is taking care of all the medical, transport and living expense. We are also grateful to the Archdiocese of Accra for housing and sheltering Rev. Alexander and Presbytera Elizabeth. Furthermore for less serious cases we provide free medical services in our clinic in Waterloo for our teachers and school children.
Our Mission in Sierra Leone is very grateful to the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica for all its assistance throughout many years. We are able through its financial gifts to help local people in need with medical expenses, school fees, funeral expenses and so many other needs. Over the last few years the Fraternity has also organized containers for the assistance of our people here. With the food supplies that they send us (rice, oil, flour, sugar, salt, powdered milk etc) we are able to observe our Lord Jesus Christ’s commandment to feed the poor. Our Mission in Sierra Leone offers thanks and gratitude in Christ to this noble Fraternity of Thessalonica.
The concern for the poor is undoubtedly one of the chief tenets in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is found repeatedly in the Gospel writings. Indeed it is so central to His proclamation that He identifies Himself in total solidarity with those who are poor, hungry, socially and physically disadvantaged.
In a striking statement in the Gospel of St. Matthew, He thanks those who feed the hungry in personal terms: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (25:35). This form of a complete identification of Christ with the poor is unique among the world’s various religions. It is therefore logical to conclude that we who claim to follow Christ have a non-negotiable obligation to help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger – wherever they may be found!
The Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone and the Hungry
The Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone take Christ’s above principle very seriously. We are located in one of the poorest nations on this planet, recovering from a long and barbaric civil war, a deadly Ebola outbreak and catastrophic floods. Therefore the obligation to feed the hungry becomes an imperative tenet of our Mission’s practical theology (“orthopraxia”).
The Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica
Towards the accomplishment of this Orthopraxia, we are very grateful to our friends in Greece, especially the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica. Every year for the past several we have receive at least one container of food and other supplies. Indeed during the Ebola crisis we would receive at least two containers. In particular we are grateful for the generous supply of rice and oil. Rice constitutes the basic staple diet of the people of Sierra Leone. This indispensable supply forms part of our Mission’s various feeding programmes.
School Feeding Programme
On the fringes of Freetown (the capital city), we have established a compound with comprehensive facilities – a large Church of the Resurrection of Christ and St. Moses the Ethiopian (funded by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica), a nursery school, a primary school, a medical clinic, a large dining hall, housing for a community of disabled people, two houses for priests and guest houses for staff workers and overseas missionary visitors. Our schools on this compound have 485 pupils and twelve teachers.
Every school day we offer them a free hot meal. In addition we also feed our entire staff at the compound. That means every work day we feed over 500 people a free cooked hot meal. It is important to remember that many of the children attending our school come from an extreme poverty background. Indeed some are Ebola orphans. Before this feeding programme was initiated last year many of our pupils would come to school in an empty stomach and could hardly concentrate in class. And would have even struggled to obtain a hot meal on a guaranteed daily basis. This situation has now changed. We here in Sierra Leone are very grateful to your benevolent organization for its wonderful contribution of food –especially rice– in feeding the hungry children of Waterloo.
Sunday Feeding Programmes
Every Sunday after the church service we offer a free hot meal to all members of the congregation both in our Cathedral of St. Eleftherios and St. George in Freetown and in our Church in Waterloo. We also hand out food supplies (especially rice, oil and sugar) to those most in need including the members of our disabled community in Waterloo.
The news has gone out among the poor in Freetown and in Waterloo that our church offers free hot meals on Sundays, does not ask for any offerings, nor tithe anyone. That is quite unique in this country. Consequently the numbers are growing every week.
I wish to thank your noble organization, all the volunteers who work hard to procure the supplies, assemble the container and shipping all this food across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean for the consumption of the poor of Sierra Leone. Thank you for acting as our missionary partners in feeding the hungry and therefore in feeding Christ Himself.
May God bless you!
✝ Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos
Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Since the day the worst outbreak of Ebola struck West Africa, the few airlines that flew there have greatly limited the number of their flights. Others felt it right to suspend air travel to West Africa because the cabin crew refused to put themselves at risk due to the outbreak, or due to decreased demand, or for fear of carrying the epidemic to the most developed countries!
Therefore, for Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, there are a limited number of options for access from Europe. There is only one flight a week from Brussels, very few to Morocco and even fewer to Côte d’Ivoire. After traveling for 24 hours, having in my luggage not only religious items and the bread and the wine for the Holy Eucharist, but also the protection and love of God as well as the wishes and blessings of His Beatitude our Pope and Patriarch Theodore II, I arrived in Freetown, under torrential tropical rain. Upon arrival, at the entrance of the small airport building, there were doctors and nurses waiting for us in order to check our body temperature and the vaccine certificates confirming that we were provided with the necessary vaccines (against yellow fever, meningitis and other diseases). There we were asked to complete a special form with our personal information and details about our plans (i.e., where we were planning to stay, which places we would be visiting, who we were going to meet and how we could be contacted by the authorities at any time.) We were also supplied with leaflets containing instructions for the prevention of the deadly virus. I personally avoided handshakes and greetings, following the safety instructions we had been given on the plane. The sun had already started going down, and the dusk was making people’s coldness and depression seem bigger. One could feel a sense of hopelessness all around due to the deadly epidemic that had struck the country and the problems caused by that.
I went through the standard procedures quite easily and at the exit I was met by the driver of the Mission, who had arrived at the airport in the morning. Unfortunately Fr. Themistocles had not managed to catch the ferry that connects the cape where the airport is located with the capital. There is one peculiarity here. The airport is located at the one end of the bay and the capital at the other, but there is no road linking the two, only a floating coffin with two daily itineraries. If one wants to go to the mainland by road, they have to travel a distance of 350 km, crossing high risk areas with several Ebola outbreaks.
So we waited at the pier until 9pm that the ferry set off. If we did not wait patiently in the queue, we might not be able to board and have to wait for the next departure time, which was in the morning. The heat was unbearable, not to mention the humidity, which made the atmosphere suffocating. In the dark one could make out dozens of people with disabilities, beggars and needy moving around. They were all asking for help. No sooner had the country got back on track from the civil war than the Ebola epidemic broke out in order to ravage it. Thank God, we managed to board the boat. After one hour journey, we arrived at our destination. At the pier it was Fr. Themistocles and his companions waiting for me.
On the way to our destination, there was darkness and desolation. Due to the epidemic all the shops have to close at 6 pm to prevent people from moving around, thus reducing the likelihood of spreading the epidemic.
Infant cleaning by the Prevention of Ebola Service CC-BY United Nations Photo
Briefing on the course of Mission work
With the daylight the city started waking up. Fr. Themistocles informed me about his activities, projects and especially the emergency programs he had started because of Ebola, i.e., distribution of food, medicines, leaflets and others, the most important being the erection of an orphanage to shelter the children orphaned due to Ebola.
There I had also the opportunity to hear about the many projects funded by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity to support our newly-founded Mission, which we are grateful for.
Ordination of clerics
During the solemn Divine Liturgy on the Monday of the Holy Spirit, authorized by His Beatitude Theodore II Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, I ordained Deacon Alexander Kamara Presbyter and the catechist Kyriakos Koroma Deacon. Kyriakos graduated last year from the St. Athanasius Patriarchal School in Alexandria and then returned to his homeland to help Fr. Themistocles in his pious work, sharing with his countrymen all the knowledge and experiences he gained in Alexandria, the center of Orthodoxy in the African continent. Our youth was very happy because a young man from their own land was being ordained Deacon. So great was their joy that they burst into cheers and applause. After the conventional admonitions to the young clerics, I conveyed to the congregation the wishes and blessings of our Patriarch and among other things, I underlined Fr. Themistocles’ heroic attitude during the epidemic, as he remained upon the ramparts defying danger in order to support his flock.
A few days later, during the Divine Liturgy that I celebrated at the Church of Ss Constantine and Helen, I ordained Deacon Kyriakos Koroma Presbyter and through laying-on of hands I made Frs. Eleftherios Edmonson and Vaios Chonsile spiritual fathers.
Laying the foundation stone
This Divine Liturgy was attended by the Minister of Social Welfare, who in his short speech referred to the large humanitarian work of the Orthodox Church in the country and stressed the fact that the President of Sierra Leone gave permit for an orphanage construction for the first time and he did so because of his trust and respect for the Orthodox Church, which has proved over the years that it has always been a selfless helper by the side of the wretched man under trial. What followed was the laying of the foundation stone of the orphanage in the courtyard of the Sacred Church of Ss Constantine and Helen.
A meal of love for the entire congregation followed in the courtyard of the Orthodox Academy. During that I had the opportunity to talk to the teaching staff of the Academy and be informed not only about the students’ progress, but also about the future curriculum and operation of the Academy. Late in the afternoon, on the way to the Cathedral, I witnessed an Ebola outbreak at the central square of the city. A young girl was trying to balance with the help of two young men and was constantly vomiting on the street- obvious Ebola symptoms. Some panic-stricken people around her were trying to help asking others for assistance in order to transport her to hospital. I felt worried seeing so many people being so close to a suspected case of the epidemic but at the same time I wondered what was more human, “to support the patient who needs help or to comply with the strict instructions that say to stay away from suspected cases and immediately alert the relevant authorities”? Unfortunately that is the way the epidemic spreads, many people are afraid of being characterized as informers when they report an incident to the authorities, others simply defy the danger.
Departure from Sierra Leone
The time of departure had come. The flight was scheduled for 4pm. The boat was leaving at 8 am. Naturally, we were not able to catch it. There were two options: to travel either on a small speedboat or by road. Traveling by speedboat took 30 minutes, while by car 4 hours. Fr. Themistocles did not trust the speedboat. Personally I did not trust the car and the hinterland. We prayed to God asking Him to enlighten us to choose the best route. We went to the port, we looked at the speedboat again and again, did a lot of thinking and still feeling puzzled, we talked with other passengers that would travel on the same route; eventually we decided to take the risk. Our captain supplied us with the necessary life jackets and set off at the scheduled time. The distance was 18 nautical miles. The sea was calm, the sky cloudy. In the middle of the route a bang was heard and immediately the speed decreased. Probably it was a mechanical problem. The captain’s assistant tried to fix something in the engine, without success. So did the captain, without success either. They assured us that they were able to handle the problem of the central engine and that they would continue with the backup engine at a lower speed. Thank God. I think that most passengers were terrified. Hopefully with Saint Nicholas’ help we managed to reach the opposite bank. What a relief!
At the airport, we were screened for fever again and again. Papers, forms, identification particulars, cell phones, where we had stayed, where we had eaten, who we had met, whether we had attended a funeral. Even if one had no fever, one was likely to rise in temperature due to that incredibly tiring screening process and all those questions. We had been screened around 6 times by the time we boarded the plane. Once I went through passport control, a police officer told me that I should go with her to the aircraft loading area because they had noticed something strange in my suitcases. I was trying to think what that strange thing might be and ultimately I realized they meant the incense and the charcoal I had with me for Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Fortunately, all is well that ends well. At the last fever check before boarding the plane, we had the display recorded on the boarding pass, which we had to show upon arrival to prove that our temperature was the same.
Going through the most joyful period of the year, that is, the Easter period, my mind and heart cannot help overflowing with joy, hope and nostalgia, since they are still on the missionary division of Sierra Leone, just one month after my return. It’s there that I experienced the moving adventure of Faith, it’s there that the Chancellor, Fr, Themistocles Adamopoulos chose to follow the Crucified Christ to the corner of Africa, where reside the poorest of the poor.
By the grace of God, with the blessings of the Pope and Patriarch Theodore the II of Alexandria and all Africa and the financial contribution of the friends of the Mission from the little they have, within the last seven years the newly established but so fervently struggling Orthodox Church of Sierra Leone carries out in a wondrous way a diverse missionary, philanthropic as well as educational work despite the adversities and the numerous problems that can occur any time.
First of all, as regards the catechetical work and that of worship, I was greatly impressed by the spirit of freedom and love with which the Church embraces those souls that seek the Truth and come to hear the Word of God, which is preached in a simple, experiential way. The christening of the catechumens is not held roughly and hastily but after a long period of catechesis and a fully conscious decision on their part. Two highly emotional moments were when the priest knelt down in order to give the Holy Communion to some handicapped people in a wheelchair, and at the Vesper of Forgiveness, with the faithful exchanging words of sincere forgiveness with each other and the priests forming a circle of unity in an atmosphere full of reverence during the period of the Great Lent.
As for the part of charity, on the outskirts of the capital city, in the region of Waterloo, Fr Themistocles established what the Patriarch called on a recent tour to Sierra Leone ‘the pride of the Patriarchate’, the village of Saint Moses the Black for the war amputees. This compound of residences consists of lodgings for the disabled and their families, clinic, school, workshop and church, and offers its services to the most vulnerable and helpless citizens of this country: the homeless amputees. The recent fifteen-year-tragedy of the civil war in conjunction with diseases like polio, have left countless victims with mutilations or disabilities. Those people, stigmatized and marginalized, found a warm embrace of God to shelter their dreams.
Mr. Georgiou examining an amputee’s family
Divine Liturgy in St. Moses’s village
Catechism in the amputees’ village
Syke street school
In such an exceptional place is the clinic of Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Olympia, where for a week, along with a local cardiologist, we examined more than 350 patients from the surrounding areas and helped them with the right medical treatment. Apart from malaria, undernourishment, tropical and skin infections, we observed increased percentages of hypertension due to the psychosomatic impact caused by the war. Next step is the construction of a special clinic for the creation of prosthetics for the amputees, a worth-supporting effort.
Fr. Themistocles lays special emphasis on the part of education, mainly of those children that have exceptional educational capabilities. The capital city of Sierra Leone has been named “the Athens of Africa” due to its tradition in the field of education. The school of the Orthodox Church in Syke street offers free education to more than 1,500 children with primary and secondary schools. Unforgettable will be the memory of the school wall, where in clear Greek letters stands out the phrase “Love God, love Knowledge”. Within the school premises we gave the students a dental examination and lectures on oral hygiene, preventive hygiene and medical emergencies. The same place hosts the activities and events of the Orthodox Youth Fellowship, where we had a catechetical class and a video projection with pictures from the Orthodox tradition. Also, there is a college for students operating with distinguished professors from all over the world.
Before leaving for Sierra Leone, I filled my overweight luggage with little holy icons and crosses, books, school stuff, balloons and the communion bread that my mother kneaded for the Divine Liturgy. On my return, the same suitcases were carrying some solid diamonds from the bloodstained land of Sierra Leone. Those were the sincere and guileless communion of love with the brother there, the pure smiles on the children’s faces, the chances for ritual services in the Orthodox Churches, and Fr. Themistocles’s phrase “It’s God we should glorify, not grumble”. Unconsciously came to my mind one of Saint Symeon the New Theologian’s sayings, which fits this humble Orthodox missionary division: “There is a little joy that laughs at death”. Christ is Risen!
Doctor, Dentist, Regular member of the Fraternity
On the Sunday of Pentecost, Bishop Georgios of Guinea conducted the Divine Liturgy in Ss. Constantine and Helen church in Freetown, Sierra Leone. During the Liturgy, he ordained a new presbyter and a deacon. Dn. Kyriakos Komora is the first Sierra Leonean graduate of the Patriarchal School of Alexandria and is responsible for the youth ministries.
Consequently, His Eminence conducted the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of a new orphanage, which will offer shelter, affection and warmth to the children who lost their parents during the recent deadly Ebola virus epidemic.
The ceremony was also attended by the Minister of Social Welfare, who thanked the Orthodox Church for the abundant support it has provided to the people of Sierra Leone.
One more container full of emergency food and items of humanitarian aid arrived in Sierra Leone, funded by P4K USA and put together by our warehouse in Philyron. Thanks to everyone who supported this effort to relieve our suffering brothers.
(E.B. Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, 17 / 12 / 14).
Except for going to church services all the population of Sierra Leone was instructed to stay home during the Christmas and New Year holidays. We are currently under a semi – lockdown mode for the Festive Season. No restaurants, no sporting events, no public celebrations, no wedding receptions, no street celebrations, all shops must close on weekdays by 6.00 PM, by noon of Saturdays and no trading on Sundays . Even church services were restricted – they were to be held during the day and only up to 5.00 PM. New Year Church Service was forbidden. Indeed the army and patrol volunteers are still out in force to ensure these decrees. Violators face the full weight of the law. Add to that list of prohibition, school, college or university attendance.
Why? Are we experiencing some sort of state sponsored anti-Christian campaign? No! Then why these draconian measures during the Holy Festive Season and indeed indefinitely until further notice? The simple yet tragic answer is that this nation is at war again.
Just as ten times before in the last twenty years this nation is at war again through Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and beyond. But this time there are no AK47s or bullets killing innocent people. This time there are no rebel forces invading cities, towns and villages amputating arms and legs indiscriminately. This time the enemy asks no questions, take no prisoners and is totally indiscriminate in its killing spree – babies, toddlers, teenagers, adults and the aged are all living under the shadow of imminent death.
This is a time without pity.
This time the enemy is silent, invisible, deadlier.
This time there can be no truce or treaties. It’s a zero-sum situation.
This time the enemy is not the Revolutionary United Front amputating limbs!
This time the enemy is an incurable microscopic virus producing a vicious and deadly haemorrhagic fever!
This is a time of constant siren wailing ambulances striking macabre fears!
This time the enemy is called Ebola!
For this reason, the Government decreed that all Christmas and New Year celebrations were to be cancelled in order to avoid the gathering of a crowd of people in enclosed spaces and in that way limiting the risk of body contact – the essential source of Ebola contamination.
When I first heard this new decree my initial instinctive reaction was negative. But then I reconsidered the situation from a purely spiritual perspective. What is the true meaning of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany celebrations? Is it about drunken street dancing? Is it about wild parties? Is it about alcohol or other forms of intoxication? Is it about carousing all night? Or as the habit here in Freetown is to hold night and day street parades by the native so-called “Devil Dancers?”
Perhaps these rigorous measures may be an unintended blessing in disguise. By removing all the unnecessary commercial and unspiritual layers from this Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, Sierra Leone has been given the opportunity – albeit unwillingly, to focus more on family re-unions rather than riotous street parties; to meditate more on the actual meaning of the Bethlehem Event, the arrival of the New Year or Epiphany in a spiritual manner rather than the indigenous “Devil Dancing” street parades. Hence, in the light of the present Ebola infested circumstance hopefully to reflect deeper on issues pertaining to personal physical hygiene and spiritual health. Indeed to supplement these measures the President of Sierra Leone has requested a week of national prayer and fasting during the New Year period in a meta-physical campaign against Ebola.
I realize that many of you who are reading this message outside of West Africa also are facing many challenges. We all share an earth of increasing apocalyptic political, economic and environmental and medical uncertainties – deadly incurable epidemics and plagues, wars and monstrous violence, young boys recruited and converted into killing machines, massive refugee displacements, catastrophic bushfires, even the specter of nuclear war is now dimly looming over the horizon in a Cold War II scenario. All these upheavals are threatening our very thin and fragile veneer of global civilization. And as if we are not content with our relentless drive for power and money we irresponsibly pollute our waters and degrade our natural environment endangering the very oxygen we breathe. And as a final nail to our negativity, traditional moral standards and Bible truths are considered outdated by a world obsessed in twisting and proclaiming error as righteousness.
But not all is lost!
We Christians are needed more than ever to proclaim and cling to the eternal and unchanging biblical truths.
Let try to keep this New Year holy and in obedience to Christ!
Let us become peace makers.
Let us also help the less fortunate!
In other words let us bring back the authentic expression of this Festive Season.
To those who have helped and are continuing to help our Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone, the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, our sponsors and individual donors in Greece, Australia, Canada, Romania, Russia and the USA, kindly accept on behalf of all our people here a warm note of gratitude. Because of the Ebola outbreak many people are now out of work and in need of food. We are distributing the much needed food that you have sent us (rice, oil, sugar, tomato sauce etc) as best as we can to meet these needs in addition to the protective gloves and mask that you have donated.
The blessings of Christ be upon you.
Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos
Freetown, Sierra leone
It is very early morning here in Freetown. It is dark. Everything is quiet.
Only a few hours ago the whole city was experiencing bright lightening flashes with earth shaking thunder which sounded like canon fire exploding in the air. The rain was torrential. This is the rainy season here in West Africa.
While we do need rain here for the nation’s water supply fore the forthcoming dry season, nevertheless it comes at a bad time, in the midst of the worst Ebola outbreak in history.
You see the Ebola virus survives very well in fluid. So the risk of Ebola contaminated water rises. Once the dry season sets in I believe that the rate of Ebola infection will to some extent diminish. That will be around January 2015.
Sierra Leone Becoming the Epicentre of the Global Ebola Outbreak
The news here in Sierra Leone is unfortunately not good at the moment. Ebola is rapidly advancing and in a very real sense the epidemic is out of control. It is now increasing at nine times the rate of two months ago. Freetown the nation’s capital is fast becoming the global epicentre of the infection . Our situation here can be described as a full blown crisis.
Our neighbour Liberia was the worst affected. It is now starting to steady. International medical help has been very slow in coming to Sierra Leone the new epicentre of the global Ebola outbreak. They are now expecting that the death toll could soon rise up to 1000 per week. This epidemic must be stopped right here in West Africa. There is no other solution. Otherwise this epidemic could easily threaten Europe, North America and even Asia and Australia.
Abandoned Contaminated Corpses
The dead body of an Ebola sufferer represents the most infectious period of the victim. Unprotected contact with an Ebola infrected corpse is suicidal. Consequently family members out of panic and fear may throw the victim’s corpse in the streets where they remain threatening the health of the neighbourhood. We had an incident in Aberdeen a suburb of Freetown, where an Ebola infected body remained lying in the street without being collected by officials. This resulted in a huge demonstration by locals until eventually the body was collected.
Near our compound in Waterloo (on the outer fringes of Freetown) were we are sheltering and feeding over one hundred poverty stricken people, a family died of Ebola. Most of the neighbours ran away in fright. However the bodies of the children remained in the house for several days. It was our Mission’s telephone call that eventually alerted officials to pick up the corpses. Part of the rapid spread of the infection is due to these bureaucratic rapid response lapses.
The local medical infrastructure is simply unable to cope. Ten years of civil war has ensured this. Consequently the Ebola outbreak to now out of control here. It is only through an immediate and momentous international intervention tat some light will be seen at the end of the present dark tunnel. And this is very slow in coming.
The International Community and the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone
The international community has let Sierra Leone down. Too little, too late. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has even admitted recently that it underestimated the outbreak when it first began. So a lot of time has been wasted by the world community in coming to our help. In fact the issue was only taken more seriously when isolated cases of Ebola began to occur in Europe and North America. Ebola is the most frightening of all plagues that has now been unleashed upon the West African region. But, I repeat, the local medical infrastructure is simply not equipped to handle this catastrophe.
The Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone and Ebola
However, in the midst of this nightmare I can convey some good news. None of the Orthodox Christian flock and workers here in Sierra Leone have been infected with the virus. And our people here are continuing to partake of Holy Communion without any fear of contamination. This is the level of faith here. Of course, this absence of infection among the Orthodox is the result of the grace of God, in addition to the Mission’s hard work and the assistance of our international supporters and sponsors in Greece and Australia. In this context I would like to express my gratitude to the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity for their financial support during this time of crisis as well as for the forthcoming the shipment of a much needed food container organised by the charity volunteers of their warehouse in Filiron.
The most vulnerable segment of our Mission’s flock is the disabled community that we are housing and feeding in our Waterloo Compound (St. Moses the Ethiopian Orthodox Village) on the fringes of Freetown. A person with disability is in a higher risk category for infection because of reliance on the help of others for his or her mobility.
Since infection by Ebola is primarily from close body contact a disabled person is in a serious disadvantage. Add to this their propensity to beg in the streets of Freetown over the weekends then you have a lethal possibility of contamination. If only one of our disabled residents becomes contaminated then our entire Waterloo compound residents could become Ebola infected – that is well over 100 people (including our nursing staff, clergy security guards and construction workers).
Thankfully, for the time being we have managed to stop them from begging in the streets of Freetown. In a sense we have quarantined them. We have achieved this through education, the distribution of protective items (gloves, face masks, chlorine etc.) increasing our financial assistance and providing them with rice supplies. The forthcoming container from Thessalonica will really help us in this situation.
Living right in the epicentre of the global Ebola epidemic is of course quite challenging. The slightest mistake in one’s daily routine can be fatal. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a cough, or any other unusual symptom and I think to myself: “This is it, I have Ebola.” But then I realise to my relief that the true symptoms are not there – no fever, no vomiting, no diarrhoea etc.
People from abroad constantly call me and ask me: “Father, why don’t you leave and save yourself from a potential infection and even death?” The answer is very simple. For the present time God has placed me here in West Africa. As the shepherd of the flock in Sierra Leone it is my duty to stay with them, to care for them, to instruct them, to console them, to guide them and to protect them from an evil that kills without pity. Furthermore our Lord Jesus Christ instructs the Christian shepherd not to abandon the sheep when danger comes It is only the hireling who abandons the sheep in moments of crisis (St. John 10.12-13.) We are relying on Christ’s protection.
“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you Lord are with me…” (Psalms 23.4).
A Note of Gratitude
Once again I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of our Mission’s friends in Greece and especially the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity for the continual support. You were among the first international groups to send assistance here in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. Bravo! We now await with great anticipation and gratitude your container of emergency food.
We ask for your prayers and continued support as we enter the most critical and dangerous period here.
Respectfully in Christ Archimandrite Themistcoles Adamopoulos