THE BLOG
11/06/2014 09:48 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

Helping Home: Social Capital in Sierra Leone's Fight Against Ebola

A few weeks ago, my family came to visit me in New York. Whilst here, they told their stories of coping with Ebola at home, in Sierra Leone. Everything seemed fine when they arrived, explained my Dad, until he stepped out of the airport and people came forward to greet him, hugging him and shaking his hands. He had grown unaccustomed to such physical contact since the outbreak of the deadly virus in Sierra Leone. I noted with surprise how my younger brother, a friendly young man of 22 years had become much more reserved and quiet. His eyes told a story of pain that I had hoped he would be spared.

In my youth, growing up in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, I too had seen images of disaster. People lying dead in the street, or being shot or hacked to pieces. Images that should have been spared to a youth of my age, or for that matter anyone. History, it seems, is repeating itself in my family. Years after my own trauma, I am again reminded of it, as I looked at my brother, imagining what countless other young boys and girls are going through at this moment of crisis in our home country and in neighboring Liberia and Guinea.

I think, for example, of a friend who recently informed me that she had lost two family members to Ebola. She cried as she told of the ordeals of not being able to care for a loved one in such difficult times, and of the ordeals associated with living a quarantined life.

Such is the reality of Ebola. However, another reality has also emerged, one little mentioned yet equally as impressive. This is the reality of community -- the contributions of thousands of Sierra Leoneans towards helping to ease the lives of those living with, and dying of, Ebola. I remember speaking to my father as he left on one of his trips to an array of rural areas of Sierra Leone to donate bags of rice to Ebola quarantined people. "Dad," I implored, "why are you putting yourself at so much risk?" He responded plainly: "It is my responsibility to help." When he returned to Freetown, he called me and told me about seeing young children, women and men, shuttered away behind fences, not knowing whether they would die or live.

Those stories brought tears to my eyes, and I understood what a few bags of rice and food given at the right moment could mean to people deprived of the freedom to leave their houses in search of food or other basic amenities.

In truth, the Ebola crisis has shown what a huge impact social capital can have on such crisis. Sierra Leoneans, in the country as well as in the diaspora, have shown a lot of solidarity. Since the disease's outbreak, at least a million United States dollars have been generated by Sierra Leoneans to support diverse causes, all with the ultimate aim of providing aid to Ebola victims. For example, various Sierra Leonean staff members working with the United Nations pulled together $40,000 USD that was used to purchase equipment such as gloves, masks, and other medical supplies to help health care workers who were putting themselves in danger to help those in need.

Aid has not only come from high-level organization affiliates but also on more grassroots levels. More than 20 (un)official groups, ranging from student groups to other associations have come together to make donations. These groups have pulled together various sums ranging from 2,000 USD to hundreds of thousands of dollars all in a bid to provide support to those in need.

The provision of such aid will, it is expected, go a long way to help contain the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone. For instance, providing food to the quarantined limits their need to go out in search of food and risk contaminating others, whilst the provision of gloves and other medical supplies will not only help health workers, but eventually, also provide more protection to non-contaminated citizens.

As all hope for a speedy end to this current outbreak, I for one remain positive and hope that this trend of people coming together to supplement efforts on the national and international level will continue. It has brought help and hope to many.