Sunday, March 29, 2015

Three weeks in Kumala: part 1

Four weeks ago now, I travelled for a good six hours to get to Kabala, the capital of Koinadugu district in the north of Sierra Leone. I can't really remember much about the day and a half I spent there, but it was a lot of coordination meetings, and introductions to district officials who I may need to contact from my next location. 

That next spot was a village called Kumala. Or rather, a camp 10 minutes walk from Kumala. The back half of this dome tent was my home for three weeks. 
For my first outing as the roving manager, I thought I was strolling in to Kumala for a couple of weeks, and wouldn't have too hard a time of it. The team there is great, and have been working really hard for the last few months, so I was confident it was going to be smooth sailing.

Oh but I was wrong. Every single day something went pretty badly wrong. The worst thing of course, was after having no positive ebola cases for 20 days (21 days being the incubation period), there were suddenly three positive cases over the course of a week. When positive cases are found, the people who have had contact with the person are quarantined for 21 days. So we suddenly had 55 people in quarantine in two villages, who needed water, sanitation, and food. While WFP is responsible for providing the staple food for the quarantine period, it's basically just rice and oil. So my organisation has been supplementing that with condiments (that the households can choose) so that their diet is a bit more varied. We delivered jerry cans and coordinated with the army and the local communities to actually get those jerry cans filled with water every day, we instructed people how to dig a latrine pit and when completed, would deliver a latrine slab so that they had somewhere safe to use the toilet. I'm incredibly proud of the quick response the team would make whenever a new household was quarantined.

We had many many other challenges, but somehow we managed to figure out appropriate solutions and mostly carry on with the work that needed to be done. And how was that work done? By sitting under a thatched 'palaver' hut (you may know it as a tukul). Yes, my office was nice and cool, well, it was probably only 34 degrees in there rather than the 37 out of the shade, and early on, was frequently visited by chickens. (I named this one Dinner).
The base camp was an interesting place to live. It houses three NGOs, doctors and nurses from the African Union, as well as District Health teams who work on contact tracing and active case finding. On average there were about 50 people there each night, all of whom required feeding. A local women's group had been formed, and they provided the catering. While they still have a ways to go in organising themselves in things like timing the meals to be ready when they're supposed to be etc, the food was surprsingly good. Though I am completely sick of rice and fried chicken and cassava leaves. One of the great things about working with engineers and logisticians is their ability to create things out of other things. Like a BBQ out of a metal box one of the tents had come in. This roasted goat was the best meal I had in Kumala!
There are many other photos I could share, but the internet is pretty slow in my guesthouse in Freetown. I got back here on Wednesday (via the UN helicopter) and was absolutely exhausted. Three and a half weeks without a day off (without even half a day off), in the heat, the dirt, and with a resident mouse in my tent, was incredibly tough. Luckily for me, on Friday a 'stay at home' 3 day period was instigated by the government. Basically a lock down, across the country everyone stays at home (of course there are some exceptions) for three days, so that active case finders can do exactly that, find sick people who should be in ebola treatment centres. This happened a few months ago and they found 150 cases. But for me, an excuse to sit at home for three days and just sleep, watch movies, and hang out with my housemates (who are old friends of mine) was a very happy turn of events. 

I'll write more about Kumala soon enough, I have to mention the hand dug well that blew my mind!!

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