By Joseph Kaifala
Every disaster in Sierra Leone unravels a series of other tragedies. When I heard of a pandemic ravaging places with superior healthcare systems, I thought, if this virus is killing people in China, Europe and America in their thousands, imagine what it could do to us. Anyone who has visited our hospitals knows that we are ill-equipped for any contagious disease.
While my primary fear was a defective healthcare system in the face of a pandemic, my secondary fear was all the auxiliary issues that could arise from a pandemic situation. We live in a subsistent society, surviving manually on a daily basis, so that a virus that requires us to go into lockdown consequently threatens our survival even as we succeed in protecting ourselves from that virus.
While our government has applied some serious efforts to mitigate our present situation, one does not learn to swim in a current. Over the years we did not put major efforts into building public institutions that could withstand a pandemic. Other countries might be able to supplement existing facilities overnight to deal with a viral situation, we usually have to improvise our way through emergencies.
The pandemic forced us to close schools, and that created a need for remote learning, which other countries managed using modern technological innovations. Our Teaching Service Commission (TSC) was able to set up radio classes for school children. However, radios were not provided to school children. So while radio classes are a great idea, many students are unable to listen.
When I heard about the radio classes, I decided to fundraise to provide basic SierraTel phones for students at the Sengbe Pieh Academy, a secondary school for girls I run in Lungi with assistance form the Jeneba Project, a nonprofit organisation that provides educational opportunities for girls in Sierra Leone. I intended to kill two birds with one stone by providing the girls with a phone that has an FM radio and also allows us to SMS health information about Covid19.
The provision of SierraTel phones to the girls was a fantastic idea until not too long into the Sierra Leone Covid19 response Lungi went into what is now a permanent blackout. I thought of purchasing FM radios that use regular batteries for the girls, but I felt uneasy going back to my friends to ask for more money for a problem I thought I had solved. In that moment I received a message from my friend Dereque Davis of Project Pikin, asking whether I was interested in receiving radios for the girls at Sengbe Pieh so they could benefit from Karo Kura Kompin, a radio programme for adolescent girls produced by Purposeful. I actually play one of the characters in the drama and was quite delighted by this offer.
The radios work with both regular and rechargeable batteries. Since there is no electricity in Lungi at the moment, the Jeneba Project purchased Tiger Batteries for the girls. The girls can now listen to their TSC classes, Karo Kompin, and other radio information and entertainment provided during this pandemic.