Quaker Peace Network - Sierra Leone, West Africa (QPN-WA)
During Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991 -2002) many people suffered torture, rape, and other horrors. Among them were Abdul Kamara and Fatou Samah, and their Liberian friend Jao Sie Samuka Parker. They all feature in a book about African peaceworkers – The Light that Pushes Me.
In 2009, Abdul founded the Quaker Peace Network - West Africa (QPN-WA) in his home area of Rokel. Many former combatants there were still struggling to adjust to the new Sierra Leone, and he wanted to help them. Fatou and Samuka joined him in this work.
Rokel lies to the East of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Before QPN-WA there were few work opportunities and a very low standard of living. There was no connection to any electricity supply, no piped water and no arrangements for sewerage or waste management.
Abdul, Fatou and Samuka, assisted by many others, soon decided that the best way they could help to build peace in Rokel after the civil war was to stimulate the divided community to work together to improve local conditions and create employment opportunities. They raised funds to facilitate this, and made sure they were used with honesty and integrity.
Soon people who had been on opposite sides in the civil war were working together to clear land. They built wells and a clinic, installed some solar panels, and set up arborloos to provide basic sewerage. Men and women who had had arms or legs amputated during the civil war were given access to a microcredit scheme which has helped to start many small businesses.
In 2014 they had just completed their Quaker Meeting House when Ebola struck. Schools, meeting places and all non-Ebola clinics were closed by government order. The Rokel clinic soon set up an Ebola health education programme.
However in October a lady in the remote John Thorpe village walked the mile or so to her local clinic because she felt unwell. The clinic was closed. So she got someone to call a traditional healer from a neighbouring district. The healer came and attended her. He was found dead two days later, less than a couple of miles away. He had managed to walk from her home to an area close to the Rokel clinic. His body was removed later that day.
50 people from John Thorpe died of Ebola within the next month. All who died could be traced back to the original healer. Thanks to the Ebola education programme, the people in the rest of Rokel kept away, as they had been advised. None of them contracted the deadly virus, apart from one of QPN-WA’s health care workers, who was the brother of one of the victims.
Ebola is often contracted at funerals when everyone touches the dead body. However children do not attend funerals unless they are babes in arms.
So suddenly 40 children from the John Thorpe community found themselves orphaned, without parents and often without other relatives too. The little Quaker Community in Rokel undertook to provide food for all the orphans, and to house the 8 orphans whose parents had worked on their projects. They rented a small building as an orphanage, and raised funds for some beds. Before long 20 children were living there.
They were very traumatised at first. The very dedicated workers had a difficult time coping with bedwetting and heartrending questions about where their parents had gone and why they were not allowed to go with them. It helped that one of the workers at the orphanage was a teacher who soon set about providing basic education for the children, some of whom had never been to school before.
Once the Ebola epidemic receded, schools gradually re-opened. The priorities for QPN-WA now are housing the 20 other orphans, finding money for fees to enable the children to go to local schools, and ensuring that all the children are fully immunised. At the time of writing (May 2015), the Meeting House and clinic are still closed, awaiting government permission to reopen: once this is given QPN-WA will be able to restart much of the work that has been on hold.
Two UK charities support this work. The Judy Trust raises funds for health and health education projects. The Dorothy Peace Centre raises funds for peace and education projects, and the orphanage, which is named after it. QPN-WA is also connected to the pan-African Quaker Peace Network.