March 27, 2020
A Note from our Program Director in Sierra Leone, Chad McCordic
Dear Friends of OneVillage Partners,
We are all living through unprecedented times as the world reels from the Coronavirus, and while the uncertainty can make us anxious, there is still hope and inspiration in many places, particularly in Sierra Leone. Some of the lessons we are learning through this pandemic will have a lasting positive impact on how we address challenges on a global scale, as well as how we can support and strengthen our own communities.
In Sierra Leone, the memory of the 2014 Ebola outbreak is still fresh and has spurred people to quickly adopt preventative behaviours, even while there are still no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the country. People are greeting without handshaking and keeping physical distance from one another. But despite these preventative steps, it is important to remember that the citizens of Sierra Leone are constantly living through a public health crisis due to weak healthcare systems. On any given day, a deadly disease could suddenly claim a family member, not unlike what is happening right now across the world with Coronavirus.
Perhaps because of this, the culture of community support is strong. Those who fall ill in Sierra Leone may need to be physically distanced, but they will not be socially isolated. When I got malaria last year, a dozen people called me with encouragement and offers of food or any other kind of support. What I have learned in my years living in Sierra Leone is that in a public health crisis a community response isn’t just helpful, it’s necessary. What turned the tide in the Ebola outbreak wasn’t new medicine or lockdowns, it was traditional leaders inspiring new behaviours and entire communities responding as one.
That’s why OneVillage Partners is refocusing programmatic efforts to engage community volunteers and traditional leaders in each of the villages we partner with to educate on the Coronavirus, how to prevent its spread, and what to do if a case does emerge. We are also making dozens of handwashing stations available to villages to reinforce the Coronavirus education, as well as ensuring that this training is easily shared with the 26,000 people served by OneVillage Partners. As with all our activities, this education is accessible, interactive, and empowering: participants know they must take immediate steps to keep their communities healthy, because our wellbeing is interconnected.
This is illustrated by concluding the education with a simple exercise, and if you have a moment, I’d like you to do it, too.
Participants are asked to think of the person in their life that they want to protect from the disease; it could be a parent, child, or friend. What preventative behaviours are you going to adopt to keep that person safe from Coronavirus? Participants are then asked to make public declarations: “To protect my young son, I will regularly wash my hands and make sure my family does the same.” Then, participants are asked what they would do to protect the loved one of the person sitting next to them. “To protect my mother, I will keep practice physically distancing, and to protect Foday’s son, I will also ensure my family correctly washes their hands.” Who are each of us going to protect and how?
We are lucky to be ahead of the virus in Sierra Leone, but for many others, it has already arrived. Now, more than ever, our health and wellbeing are interconnected with those around us. To be effective in combating this, we must identify immediate steps we can take to ensure our loved ones and the loved ones of our neighbours are safe and healthy. Who in our community needs a friendly phone call? Who in our community needs food? How do we uplift and support those we know on the front lines, fighting this disease?
The Coronavirus is affecting all of us around the world, but we have an opportunity to overcome it as engaged global citizens. We must meet this moment in full solidarity and build healthy, thriving communities, because we are only going to get through this together.
From our community to yours,
March 20, 2020
At OneVillage Partners, like all of you, we are adjusting to the ever-developing information and the change in our day-to-day lives, and we are finding ways to remain responsible and accountable to our partner communities throughout this crisis. Though we all face new logistical and emotional challenges, we are finding creative ways to work together and support each other as a global, interconnected community here in the US, in Sierra Leone, and beyond.
As of today, March 20th, there are zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone; however, our neighboring countries, Liberia and Guinea, both have confirmed cases. As such, the government of Sierra Leon is putting in place additional precautionary and preventative measures. On Saturday, March 21st, the airport will be closed for a minimum of 90 days to prevent any travelers from bringing the virus into the country. At the end of the month, schools across the country will be closed. We are in close communication with and supporting our ex-pat and national staff to make sure they are prepared for potential restricted movement and that each individual is in the place he or she feels safest.
In collaboration with our COVID-19 Task Force, we continue to closely monitor the ever-evolving situation and implement additional measures to ensure the safety of our staff in Sierra Leone and Minneapolis and our community partners, including continued restrictions on travel and meetings. Collectively, as a full staff, we have always connected remotely, so our internal communications remain as strong as ever – for this, we are grateful.
Our Sierra Leone team has acted quickly to ensure our staff and community partners have the necessary information they need to stay healthy and safe. We are navigating our programs with caution; while our existing activities remain underway aside from convening large groups, we have paused new programming and expansion activities. In Minneapolis, our staff are working from home and are thinking creatively about new ways in which we can virtually continue engaging and come together with each other, our supporters, and our broader community.
Both our Minneapolis and Milwaukee Real Estate Breakfasts have been postponed. New dates will be shared once they are available.
During this time of uncertainty, we know one thing for certain: we are committed to supporting rural thriving communities. This is prompting us to rethink how we define community, both in Sierra Leone and in Minneapolis. There is a deep connection between our two geographical locations, largely driven by family members providing economic and emotional support to loved ones from afar. OneVillage Partners is exploring ways in which we can support the needs of our neighbors during this time of need. Please stay tuned for more updates over the coming weeks on how you can contribute to our shared resiliency. Together, we will overcome the challenges and uncertainties that we are all facing.
From all of us at OneVillage Partners, we thank you for your continued support, and we wish you and your loved ones wellbeing during this time.
March 13, 2020
In light of the global spread of COVID-19, many of you have inquired about our partner communities in Sierra Leone. As of March 13th, there are zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone, there has been a coordinated and proactive response at the national level. The Sierra Leonean government has quickly disseminated information via radio broadcasts and other communication outlets on COVID-19, preventing illness, and preventing transmission, and all incoming travelers at airports and major border crosses are subject to screening and possible quarantining if necessary.
While we are optimistic that the number of confirmed cases remains nonexistent or low, a spread of COVID-19 in a country like Sierra Leone, with limited health infrastructure, could pose significant challenges. OneVillage Partners has learned how significant a responsive approach can be to rural communities. As such, last month we created an emergency response task force, staffed with medical and legal experts, to monitor the situation and advise on necessary actions and precautions. The task force has been convening on a regular basis and will continue to do so as the situation continues to develop. OneVillage Partners leadership and the task force are closely monitoring information disseminated from local governments and public health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Sierra Leonean government, the U.S. Department of State, the Minnesota State Department.
At OneVillage Partners, we are doing all that we can to ensure our partner communities have the information that they need to stay healthy. This week, we visited eight of our partner communities and met with tribal authorities and government representatives to share information on COVID-19 and how to prevent transmission. Next week, we will visit the remainder of our partner communities, both currently active and past active, to share the same message. Aside from sharing information on the virus, our activities and projects in Sierra Leone are still operating as planned.
Additionally, we are taking preventative measures in Sierra Leone and the United States to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff. All business-related international travel has been postponed and/or cancelled, and domestic travel is being assessed on a trip-by-trip basis in collaboration with our leadership. Our staff are prepared to work from home for an extended period of time, if necessary.
We are carefully monitoring the status in both Minneapolis and Milwaukee in preparation for our April and May events. The health and well-being of our supporters is of utmost priority. Should anything change with our late-Spring events, we will promptly notify all registered attendees and event sponsors. Thank you for your patience as we continue to assess the situation and determine what is best for our supporters.
We encourage all of our supporters and partners to be compassionate and to take a community approach in caring for one another. OneVillage Partners remains committed to our mission, vision, and values, perhaps even more so in times of uncertainty. To stay up to date on our response to COVID-19, both in Sierra Leone and in the United States, connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and sign up for our eNewsletters.
Thank you for your continued support, cooperation, and understanding.
March 13, 2020